LONDON: A woman who lost her British citizenship after joining the Islamic State group in Syria will today have her case reviewed, with her lawyers arguing that she was a “victim of trafficking.”
Shamima Begum is one of hundreds of Europeans whose fate following the 2019 collapse of the so-called Islamic State caliphate has proved a thorny issue for governments.
Begum, then 15, left her home in east London in 2015 with two school friends to travel to Syria, where she married an IS fighter and had three children, none of whom survived.
She was later “found” by British journalists, heavily pregnant in a Syrian camp in February 2019 – and her apparent lack of remorse in initial interviews drew outrage.
Dubbed an “IS bride,” she was stripped by the UK of her British citizenship, leaving her stranded and stateless in Syria’s Kurdish-run Roj camp.
Today’s hearing at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission follows a Supreme Court decision last year to refuse her permission to come the UK to fight her citizenship case against the Home Office.
‘Trafficked by Canadian spy’
Tasnime Akunjee, the Begum family lawyer, told AFP the hearing would be centred around whether she was “considered a victim of trafficking – notably whether the then home secretary (Sajid Javid) turned his mind to those issues when making the decision to strip her of citizenship.”
A book published earlier this year by journalist Richard Kerbaj alleged that Begum and her friends were taken into Syria by a Syrian man who was leaking information to the Canadian security services.
Mohammed Al-Rashed is alleged to have been in charge of the Turkish side of an extensive IS people smuggling network.
“It is now fairly well settled that she and her friends were transported across borders… by a Canadian asset of the Canadian security forces,” Akunjee said.
“The very definition of trafficking is pretty well established by that,” he added.
Despite her initial comments, Begum has since expressed remorse for her actions and sympathy for IS victims.
In a documentary last year, she said that on arrival in Syria she quickly realised IS were “trapping people” to boost the caliphate’s numbers and “look good for the (propaganda) videos.”
Some 900 people are estimated to have travelled from Britain to Syria and Iraq to join the IS group. Of those, around 150 are believed to have been stripped of their citizenship.
Human rights group Reprieve told AFP there were currently 20-25 British families, including 36 children, still in camps in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria, where suspected relatives of IS fighters have been held.
Other European nations have also been grappling with how to handle the return of their own nationals.
Hostile public opinion
Some countries, such as Germany and Belgium, have tried to carry out regular repatriation operations.
Last month, Berlin said it had settled “almost all known cases” of German families in jihadist prison camps in Syria, claiming to have repatriated 76 minors as well as 26 women.
According to Belgium’s federal prosecutor’s office, in mid-2022, there remained “a few women and a few children” in the Syrian camps.
Faced with hostile public opinion, however, France had been carrying out repatriations on a case-by-case basis.
However, it picked up the pace in recent months after criticism from the European Court of Human Rights. Since July, Paris has repatriated 31 women and 75 children in two operations.
Some 175 French children and 69 women are believed to still be in the camps.
Reprieve director Maya Foa told AFP that Begum had been “groomed online as a child and taken to Syria by a Canadian intelligence spy.”
“Most British women in northeast Syria were groomed, coerced or deceived by Isis, which operated as a sophisticated trafficking gang.”
Many were young girls at the time and were “held against their will and subjected to sexual and other forms of exploitation,” she added.