On Friday, a woman who has been stripped of British citizenship after having run off in her teens to join the Islamic State in Syria — a story that made international headlines after she resurfaced last year — lost a legal challenge in a British tribunal on Friday.
A look at the back story of Shamima Begum, whose case has thrown into focus the larger questions about how Western societies will deal with others who joined IS, but who want to return to their home countries now that the terror group has collapsed.
The flight to Syria
Shamima, now 20, was just 15 when she and two other London schoolgirls travelled to Syria in 2015. Shamima was discovered in a camp by The Times journalist Anthony Loyd in 2019.
Media reports last year said the three girls had initially travelled to Turkey before being smuggled across the Syria border. Three weeks after arriving in Syria, Shamima married an IS fighter called Yago Riedijk, who grew up the Netherlands, and who is since said to have surrendered.
Shamima and Riedijk lived in the city of Raqqa, an IS stronghold that collapsed in 2017, and later relocated to Baghuz in eastern Syria. The couple had three children, all of whom have died. When Shamima was found last year, she was pregnant with her third child.
Loyd found Shamima at a refugee camp in Syria last year. She told reporters that she wanted to return home, but came under much criticism in Britain because she apparently felt no remorse for her actions. Even her family in London expressed shock at her lack of repentance.
Former Home Secretary Sajid Javid revoked her citizenship. She challenged the decision before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. This was the first stage of her appeal, which she lost on Friday.
The statelessness question
The United Kingdom is a signatory to the 1954 Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, which seeks to address statelessness, as well as the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness under the UN refugee win UNHCR. In 2014, UNHCR launched the Campaign to End Statelessness in 10 Years.
In the tribunal, Shamima argued that she is not a citizen of another country and that the decision to strip her of citizenship had left her stateless. The tribunal ruled that she was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent”, and therefore not rendered stateless.
Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, is reported to have said last year that Shamima was not a Bangladeshi citizen and there was “no question” of her being allowed into the country. Shamima family has long argued that she has never had a Bangladeshi passport.
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Revocation of citizenship
The UK Immigration Act, amended in 2014, lays down the conditions under which British citizenship can be revoked. Under Section 40(4)(A), the Secretary of State can make an order to deprive a person of a citizenship status if “the Secretary of State is satisfied that the deprivation is conducive to the public good because the person, while having that citizenship status, has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom…”
On Friday, the tribunal ruled said the decision to revoke Shamima’s citizenship did not breach the Home Office’s “extraterritorial human rights policy by exposing Ms Begum to a real risk of death or inhuman or degrading treatment”.
Shamima’s lawyer, Daniel Furner, said the decision would be appealed.
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