Shamima Begum, a British-born woman who left the country as a teenager in 2015 to join the Islamic State, is entitled to return to Britain, judges at the Court of Appeal in London ruled Thursday.
The British government stripped Begum of her citizenship last year, after her case garnered national attention when she told a Times of London reporter she wanted to return home. She was nine months pregnant at the time, living in a refugee camp in Syria. Her her infant son later died in the camp.
The court ruled Thursday she could travel to Britain to challenge the citizenship revocation.
The decision to remove her citizenship and deny her and her son’s return to Britain sparked public uproar and debate. Some saw her as an extremist who willingly joined an extremist organization and could pose a national security threat on British soil. Others said that regardless of her affiliations with the Islamic State, which she joined as a minor, she deserved the chance to face a court in Britain.
Begum’s attorney said Thursday that she “is not afraid of facing British justice. She welcomes it,” The Associated Press reported. “But the stripping of her citizenship without a chance to clear her name is not justice – it is the opposite.”
It remains unclear how and when Begum, who is now 20, could return to Britain, a trip that probably would require the assistance of British authorities. The British Home Office said Thursday that it would “apply for permission to appeal” that would allow her admittance, according to the BBC.
“[A]llowing her – and indeed other terrorists – back into the UK to pursue an appeal would create a national security risk that cannot be fully mitigated,” former British Home Secretary Sajid Javid wrote in a statement.
Azadeh Moaveni, director of the gender and conflict project at the International Crisis Group, tweeted Thursday that the court’s decision Thursday will have implications on other British citizens in Syria who also had their citizenship revoked. “The ruling is an extraordinary rebuke to the [government] & shows a court taking the moral & legal high ground, instead of playing race politics,” she wrote.
The debate over Begum’s citizenship came amid a broader discussion in Europe over the fate of former suspected Islamic State members held in Syria.
Opponents of a large-scale repatriation effort argued that European courts would struggle to convict repatriated Islamic State members, given the limited options for investigators to gather evidence of wrongdoing in Syria.
Many European governments hesitated to allow former Islamic State members back in. The German parliament passed a law last year that allows authorities to strip members of militant groups of their German citizenship, unless it is their sole citizenship. Under British law, the same rule applies: Authorities are required to refrain from stripping individuals of their citizenship if it would make them stateless.
The British government has argued that Begum is eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, but authorities there said last year that “there is no question of her being allowed to enter into Bangladesh.”
Begum’s tenuous status prompted warnings from human rights analysis and advocates. “Many of Islamic State’s European recruits are second-generation children of Arab or Asian immigrants,” wrote Moaveni. “Abandoning them to their fate or stripping them of citizenship, which the U.K. government has done in some cases, implies that their status as Europeans is contingent.”
(c) 2020, The Washington Post · Siobhán O’Grady, Rick Noack