London-born Islamic State (ISIS) recruit Shamima Begum on Thursday won the right to return to the UK and carry on her legal fight against the UK government’s revocation of her British citizenship on security grounds.
Bangladeshi-origin Begum, now 20, was one of three schoolgirls who fled London to join ISIS in Syria in 2015.
Senior Court of Appeal UK judges, including Indian-origin Lord Justice Rabinder Singh, ruled that she must be allowed to re-enter and fight her case.
“Fairness and justice must, on the facts of this case, outweigh the national security concerns, so that the leave to enter appeals should be allowed,” said Lord Justice Julian Flaux, who was part of the three-judge bench with Lord Justice Singh and Lady Justice Eleanor King.
The judges also said that the national security concerns about her “could be addressed and managed if she returns to the United Kingdom”.
The UK Home Office said the decision was “very disappointing” and it would “apply for permission to appeal”.
Begum, who was 15 years old when she secretly fled her home in east London in 2015 to join the terrorist group in Syria, is living in a camp run by Kurdish forces in northern Syria. The UK Court of Appeal said she had been denied a fair hearing because she could not make her case from the camp.
A special British immigration tribunal ruled in February that she was a Bangladeshi citizen by descent which meant that she had not been rendered homeless by former UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s decision to revoke her British citizenship in 2019.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), a specialist tribunal that hears challenges to decisions to remove British citizenship on national security grounds, said Begum was in the situation she is challenging “as a result of her own choices, and of the actions of others, but not because of anything the Secretary of State (Javid) had done”.
Begum’s solicitor, Daniel Furner of Birnberg Peirce, had said she would take her case to the Court of Appeal “as a matter of exceptional urgency”.
“Ms Begum has never had a fair opportunity to give her side of the story. She is not afraid of facing British justice, she welcomes it. But the stripping of her citizenship without a chance to clear her name is not justice, it is the opposite,” said Furner following Thursday’s ruling.
At a hearing at the Court of Appeal last month, her lawyer argued that Begum, who remains in the camp in northern Syria, could not effectively challenge the decision while she was barred from returning to the UK.
Begum had been tracked down in northern Syria in February last year by ‘The Times’ newspaper, when she was nine months pregnant with her third child, who later died. She had previously lost two other children — a son and a daughter.
Javid stripped her of citizenship soon after on the grounds that she could claim Bangladeshi nationality through her parents.
His successor as the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, also backed that decision and ruled out the prospect of her return to the UK.
“We cannot have people who would do us harm allowed to enter our country – and that includes this woman,” said Patel, in reference to Begum, who had pleaded with the authorities to allow her to return to her family in the UK.
Under UK law, a person can legally have their citizenship revoked but they cannot be made stateless. The UK government maintains that Begum has access to Bangladeshi dual citizenship through her parents, even though the Bangladesh government has since denied any such rights.
Begum left the UK in February 2015 and lived under ISIS rule for more than three years. She became known as a so-called ISIS bride because she was married to Yago Riedijk, a Dutch ISIS fighter, soon after arriving in Syria.