Shamima Begum appeals against loss of British citizenship but Home Office suggests plight is her 'own fault'

Jack Hardy

Shamima Begum, the Isil bride, chose to go to Syria and can only blame “her own actions” if she is in danger, the Government said on Tuesday as it argued against her return to the UK. 

The Bethnal Green schoolgirl fled to join the terror group when she was 15 with two other friends and married a Dutch fighter with whom she had three children. 

As the caliphate crumbled earlier this year, she was tracked down to a refugee camp close to the Syrian border, heavily pregnant and grieving the deaths of her two older children. 

Her re-emergence into the public eye prompted Sajid Javid, then Home Secretary, to revoke her British citizenship to prevent her travelling home. Her newborn child died days later.

On Tuesday, a legal challenge launched by Ms Begum, now aged 20, reached the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in London, as her lawyers tried to get the decision ruled unlawful.

They are claiming the revocation left her stateless, exposed her to the risk of death or harm and deprived her of access to a “fair and effective” appeal. 

Concerns were raised that Ms Begum could be “hanged” if she was sent back to Bangladesh - where the Government alleges she has citizenship - or rendered to face trial and possible execution in Iraq by the forces currently running the al-Roj camp.

She claimed the loss of her British citizenship had left her trapped in “wretched and squalid conditions” at the camp, contrary to her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights

However, the Home Office rejected these claims in written submissions presented to the court and suggested Ms Begum’s current plight was her own fault. 

The argument, prepared by Jonathan Glasson QC, said: “It is relevant that the appellant is in Syria because of her own actions; and is detained in a camp run by the (Syrian Democratic Forces) as a direct consequence of her own actions; the Secretary of State has no role in the running of that camp; and no role in the decision of the SDF to detain the appellant there.

“If her appeal succeeds on this preliminary issue, she will still be in precisely the same situation.”

The Government claimed Ms Begum had “not presented any evidence” to show she was at risk of being deported to either Bangladesh or Iraq.

A similar argument was deployed to counter the suggestion she had been denied a route of appeal, as she was said to have travelled to Syria “against Foreign Office advice, aligned with Isil and remained there in those circumstances for the next four years”.

“Any difficulties she faces there - including difficulties leaving the camp or appealing against the deprivation decision from outside the UK - are not the result of any actions of the Secretary of State,” the written submissions continued. 

Ms Begum’s lawyer, Tom Hickman QC, said in his own submissions that the Isil bride was not a Bangladeshi citizen as she was born in the UK and had never travelled to the country, meaning she would have to apply for dual citizenship through the Bangladeshi citizenship of her parents.

The Bangladeshi government released a statement in February saying it was “deeply concerned” that Ms Begum had been “erroneously identified as a holder of dual citizenship”.

These claims were also dismissed by the Home Office, which argued Ms Begum held dual citizenship through her parents because her father never became a naturalised British citizen and therefore she was not required to reapply for Bangladeshi citizenship as she was under 21. 

It also suggested in a letter to her lawyers on October 18 that the chaos which has engulfed northern Syria since Turkey launched an offensive meant Ms Begum was “free to leave” as her camp was “likely to be unguarded”.

But Mr Hickman told the court on Tuesday: “As far as we are aware nothing material has changed at al-Roj, albeit that the environment there is incredibly fragile and dangerous."

Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing is expected to reserve her judgment at the end of the four-day preliminary hearing in London. 

It is not expected to examine the “national security” allegations against Ms Begum this week, which may include claims, first reported by The Telegraph, that she was an enforcer in Isil’s morality police.