A British-born woman who went to Syria as a girl to join Islamic State on Tuesday mounted her latest appeal against the removal of her British citizenship, arguing Britain failed to properly consider whether she was a victim of trafficking.
The British government took away Shamima Begum’s citizenship on national security grounds in 2019, shortly after she was found in a detention camp in Syria.
Begum first challenged the decision at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) – a specialist tribunal which hears appeals against decisions to remove citizenship on national security grounds – in 2019.
Her case has since travelled from SIAC to the UK’s Supreme Court and back, while Begum remains in the al-Roj detention camp in northeastern Syria.
In February, SIAC found there was a “credible suspicion” that Begum was trafficked to Syria for the purposes of sexual exploitation and there were arguably “state failures” in relation to her journey from London to Syria via Turkey in 2015.
However, SIAC ruled that a finding Begum may have been trafficked was not enough for her appeal to succeed, a decision which Begum’s lawyers sought to challenge on Tuesday.
Begum’s lawyer Samantha Knights told London’s Court of Appeal that Britain had a legal duty to consider whether she was a potential victim of trafficking, or if there had been any failures by the state before removing her British citizenship.
However, lawyers representing the British government said in court filings that the decision to revoke someone’s citizenship must be “focused on the risks posed by the individual, irrespective of how they might have come to be a risk”.
Begum’s case has been the subject of heated debate in Britain, between those who argue she willingly joined a terrorist group and others who say she was a child when she left, or should face justice for any alleged crimes in Britain.
She left London in 2015, aged 15, and travelled with two school friends to Syria, where she married an IS fighter and gave birth to three children, all of whom died as infants.
Begum, now 24, has been in the al-Roj camp since 2019, with thousands of other foreign women and children.
In February, SIAC noted that “reasonable people will profoundly disagree” with the Home Office’s decision to remove Begum’s citizenship, but said the issue “raises wider societal and political questions”, which were not for the tribunal.
Since that decision, dozens of people have been repatriated from Syrian detention camps to countries including Canada and France, while the United States and Saudi Arabia in June urged countries to take back their citizens.
Britain has repatriated 11 individuals since 2019 as of this July, according to figures compiled by human rights organisation Rights and Security International.
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