Shamima Begum: UK may be powerless to stop runaway Isis bride returning, admits justice secretary

'Obviously we have to act within the powers that we have. We can't make people stateless,' says David Gauke, in comments which appear to contradict those of home secretary Sajid Javid

Chris Baynes
Saturday 16 February 2019 15:31 GMT
UK can't make runaway Isis bride Shamima Begum 'stateless' says justice secretary David Gauke

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Louise Thomas

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The UK’s justice secretary has conceded the government may not be able to block the return of a schoolgirl who fled to Syria to join Isis in 2015.

David Gauke said Britain “can’t make people stateless”, comments which appear to contradict those of home secretary Sajid Javid, who on Friday vowed he “will not hesitate to prevent” 19-year-old Shamima Begum from making her way home.

The London teenager, who is heavily pregnant, is currently living in a Syrian refugee camp after fleeing the Isis caliphate. She told The Times this week that she did not regret running away when she was 15 but wanted to return home to raise her child.

Mr Javid said: “My message is clear – if you have supported terrorist organisations abroad, I will not hesitate to prevent your return.”

But his cabinet colleague, Mr Gauke, told Sky News: “Obviously we have to act within the powers that we have.

“It is the case we can’t make people stateless, but without getting too drawn into the specifics, the approach that we take as a government, which is the responsible one, is to ensure that we protect the British public. That is the key thing.

“There are clearly dangers involved when we have people returning from dangerous parts of the world where they have voluntarily gone to and we need to make sure the British public are protected.”

Doubts about the home secretary’s vow have also been raised by Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, who said the UK would be legally obliged to allow Ms Begum to return unless she had a second nationality.

The UN Convention on Human Rights safeguards the right to a nationality.

Kurdish officials have also demanded the UK fulfils its “moral and legal duty” to repatriate Ms Begum and other British Isis members detained in Syria.

Abdel Karim Omar, a Kurdish foreign affairs official, told The Independent that thousands of detained Isis fighters, women and children were a “big burden”.

“We cannot bear this responsiblity alone,” he added.

Richard Barrett, a former director of global counter-terrorism at MI6, suggested it would be “unreasonable” to expect the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to take responsibility for the teenager indefinitely.

He also warned that summary execution was the “most likely outcome” for captured foreign nationals who are handed over to Syrian or Iraqi authorities.

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The UK government has dismissed suggestions it could launch a rescue mission to bring Ms Begum home. Security minister Ben Wallace told the BBC: “I’m not putting at risk British people’s lives to go and look for terrorists or former terrorists in a failed state.”

Ms Begum was one of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy who left the UK to join Isis in February 2015.

One of them, Kadiza Sultana, was reportedly killed in an air strike in 2016.

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