Shamima Begum citizenship appeal: lawyers say she should have been treated as child trafficking victim

Former schoolgirl Shamima Begum is appealing the decision to revoke her British citizenship after she travelled to Syria in 2015 to join the Islamic State. (Credit: PA)Former schoolgirl Shamima Begum is appealing the decision to revoke her British citizenship after she travelled to Syria in 2015 to join the Islamic State. (Credit: PA)
Former schoolgirl Shamima Begum is appealing the decision to revoke her British citizenship after she travelled to Syria in 2015 to join the Islamic State. (Credit: PA) | PA
Ms Begum made headlines in 2015 when she travelled to Syria as a teenager alongside two other schoolgirls to join the so-called Islamic State

A court has heard that Shamima Begum should have been treated as a child trafficking victim as her appeal against the revoking of her British citizenship began. Ms Begum, 23, had travelled to Syria in 2015 as a 15-year-old alongside two school friends to join the so-called Islamic State.

The young woman was found four years later in a Syrian refugee camp. At the time she was nine months pregnant. Home Office officials took the decision at the time to revoke her British citizenship on grounds of national security, meaning that she could not return to her family in the UK.

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However, she has challenged a 2020 ruling that the Home Office did not leave her unlawfully stateless, with her lawyers arguing that the Home Office had a legal duty to investigate whether she was a victim of trafficking when her citizenship was revoked.

While her lawyers have argued that she was a trafficking victim, UK officials have argued that the then-teenager was aware of the situation when she travelled to Syria.

She will argue her case during the five-day hearing at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). Here’s everything that has been said so far.

What has Shamima Begum’s lawyers said about her case for British citizenship?

At the opening of the hearing on Monday (21 November), Samantha Knights KC and Dan Squires KC made their arguments in favour of their client Begum keeping her UK citizenship. The legal team argued she had been a victim of child trafficking after being “persuaded, influenced and affected with her friends by a determined and effective Isis propaganda machine”.

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In their written submission, Ms Knights and Mr Squires said: “She was following a well-known pattern by which Isis cynically recruited and groomed female children, as young as 14, so that they could be offered as ‘wives’ to adult men.” They added that Ms Begum, who was only 15 at the time she travelled to Syria, had been denied citizenship without the Home Office “seeking to investigate and determine, still less consider, whether she was a child victim of trafficking and whether there were failures by public authorities in the UK to prevent her being trafficked”.

What else has been said in the hearing?

The first day of the hearing has so far seen an MI5 official - only identified as Witness E - give evidence. The official was questioned by Mr Squires about the situation.

He asked the officer whether they had discussed talking to a trafficking expert while considering Ms Begum’s case. Speaking from behind a screen, the officer said they could not answer the question publicly, but later said it was “worth remembering the context” of the terrorist organisation’s acts around 2015.

The officer said the group’s actions around the time included large terror attacks and the public beheadings of multiple people, and said: “It is inconceivable someone would not know what Isil was doing as a terrorist organisation at the time.”

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The witness noted Ms Begum was predicted high grades in her exams, suggesting she was “intelligent”, “articulate” and likely capable of critical thinking”. They added: “In some respects yes, I do think she would have known what she was doing and would have had agency in doing so.”

Witness E later said that MI5 are experts in national security threats, not trafficking. “We consider whether someone is a threat and it is important to note we recognise that victims can be threats if someone is a victim of trafficking,” they added.

Sir James Eadie KC, for the Home Office, has said in written submissions that the UK’s security services still consider Ms Begum to be a “risk to national security”. He said that the decision of granting or refusing citizenship comes down to whether Ms Begum poses a threat, adding: “This is not a case about trafficking.”

Sir James added that she had “travelled, aligned and stayed in Syria for four years” and had left the Islamic State group due to concerns for her safety, rather than “a genuine disengagement from the group”. He added: “When she did emerge, and gave multiple press interviews shortly before the Secretary of State decided to deprive her of her citizenship, she expressed no remorse and said she did not regret joining Isil, acknowledging that she was aware of the nature of the group when she travelled.”

The SIAC hearing is due to conclude on Friday 25 November. Mr Justice Kay is expected to give his decision on the matter in writing at a later date.

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