Tuesday, 21 Mar 2023

Shamima Begum case could be decided in ECHR as lawyer slams UK

Shamima Begum describes how she left London for Syria

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Shamima Begum’s legal case could go all the way to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) if the Government fails to “fulfil its responsibility”, according to a human rights lawyer. Since Ms Begum was stripped of her citizenship in 2019, her lawyers have been battling in courts to get the 23-year-old’s case judged in the UK. She lost her citizenship after travelling to northern Syria in 2015 to join ISIS at the age of 15, where she is now stateless and stuck in a camp, run by the Syrian Democratic Forces, which she described as “worse than a prison”.

Last November, her lawyers told an appeal there is “overwhelming” evidence that she was groomed and trafficked by ISIS for the purpose of “sexual exploitation and marriage to an adult male”.

They claim ISIS deliberately recruited underage girls for sexual exploitation and child marriage because they were needed for the “bearing of children, which was an important feature of its state-building project”.

While the case is still pending at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), human rights lawyer and barrister Shoaib M Khan told Express.co.uk that Ms Begum’s legal team still have other legal avenues to explore. 

He said: “Even if they lose at this stage in their challenge to the revocation of her citizenship, there would be further appeals available to them, potentially up to the Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.”

The ECHR, which protects human rights and political freedoms in Europe and is not related to the European Union, would be Shamima Begum’s last resort to get her British citizenship back and get a fair trial in her native Britain. 

In 2019, the London-born teenager was stripped of her British citizenship by the then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid on the grounds that her Bangladeshi heritage meant she could claim citizenship there instead. His successor Priti Patel also ruled out Ms Begum’s return, telling The Sun: “Our job is to keep our country safe. We don’t need people who have done harm and left our country to be part of a death cult and to perpetuate that ideology.”

The current Home Secretary Suella Braverman has stuck with the Government’s decision to revoke her citizenship on national security grounds.

According to Mr Khan, Tories who “are concerned with appearances and not being embarrassed more than morality or fairness”, are to blame for delaying her case.

He said: “The UK is increasingly lagging behind other Western countries when it comes to human rights or just providing a fair system for people.”

According to the Home Office, between 2010 and 2018, an average of 19 people were deported for reasons that were “conducive to the public interest” and 17 people were deported annually due to fraud.

A report by the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion found that the UK has stripped more people of their citizenship than any other country apart from Bahrain in recent years.

Mr Khan said: “Hundreds of others have been allowed back to the UK, but clearly, given the high profile of this case, the Government would lose face if Shamima Begum was allowed back or her citizenship was reinstated.”

Ms Begum was 21 when the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that she could not come back to London to appeal the loss of her citizenship. Her future is in legal limbo and her home is now a refugee camp in northern Syria.

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“The only way for her to escape that camp in Syria, Mr Khan said, “is for the UK to fulfil its responsibility and bring her back”.

Home Office data released in 2019 show 900 people have been deemed to be a concern to our national security after travelling to Syria and Iraq to join terrorist organisations. Of those 900 people, more than 100 have been deprived of their British citizenship.

Mr Khan said: “Britain needs to start taking a mature, responsible approach on such issues – which revoking people’s citizenship and exiling them certainly is not.”

About 400 individuals of “national security concern”, including ISIS fighters, have already returned to the UK from Syria and Iraq, although only 40 have been successfully prosecuted, according to UK Home Office figures.

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