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The controversial case of Shamima Begum, who left the UK in 2015 to join ISIS, took another twist recently after the UK Supreme Court ruled that she cannot return to Britain while she battles to restore her British citizenship. Begum left the UK for Syria when she was 15, along with two friends, and is currently being held in a detention camp in northern Syria.
Begum was stripped of her British citizenship in February 2019 by then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, with the Home Office citing ‘security concerns’. She asked for permission to return to the UK to appeal the revocation of her British citizenship in the summer of 2020, which the UK Court of Appeal upheld, but the Home Office appealed the ruling.
Shortly after her departure from the UK to join the Islamic State, Begum married a Dutch fighter who is part of the terrorist group. Now 21 years old, Begum had three children, sadly all of whom have died due to illness or poor living conditions. Her husband, Yago Riedijk, is currently being held in a Kurdish-run detention centre located elsewhere in northern Syria.
Begum’s departure from the UK to join ISIS sparked an international search. Four years later, she was located by a journalist who found her in a detention camp. At the time, she said that she didn’t regret her actions, but added: “I actually do support some British values and I am willing to go back to the UK and settle back again and rehabilitate and that stuff.”
After revoking her citizenship, Sajid Javid said that she could potentially apply for Bangladeshi citizenship, stating that she would be eligible because of her mother’s origins.
A report published by NPR said: “The British Nationality Act of 1981 lets the government strip Britons of their citizenship if it would be ‘conducive to the public good’ and if the person wouldn’t become stateless as a result.”
However, Bangladesh has shown no interest in offering Begum citizenship with officials saying that she has never been to the country or pursued a Bangladeshi passport – comments that Begum reportedly agrees with.
Complex legal dispute
Begum’s ongoing legal dispute with the UK over her citizenship has been complex, with the ISIS bride pursuing several avenues of appeal. At one point, the UK’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission ruled that the government had not breached its own policies when stripping Begum of her British national status.
However, while the commission suggested that Begum’s appeal was unlikely to succeed, it warned that due to her status living under armed guard in the Al-Roj detention camp run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, her appeal could not be viewed as fair or effective.
The UK Court of Appeal agreed with the commission’s statement, saying that Begum must be allowed to return to Britain to fight to restore her UK citizenship status. However, the Home Office appealed to the Supreme Court, which has now ruled against Begum’s return.
Supreme Court ruling
The Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal’s ruling based on four points that the lower court had ‘outright mistaken or applied incorrect reasoning’.
In a summary of its judgement, the Supreme Court said: “The Court of Appeal mistakenly believed that, when an individual’s right to have a fair hearing of an appeal came into conflict with the requirements of national security, her right to a fair hearing must prevail.”
“But the right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public,” the Supreme Court added.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court stated that the Court of Appeal had made a mistake by invoking a British law guaranteeing residents access to the court, despite Begum failing to fully make that argument. “The Court of Appeal did not give the UK government’s national security assessment the respect that it should have received,” the Supreme Court said.
“If it’s impossible for Ms Begum’s case to be fairly heard, her appeal should have been stayed until she could effectively participate in hearings. This is not an ideal solution, because it’s not known how long before this will be possible. However, this is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind,” the Supreme Court added.
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