Health and Wellness

Shamima Begum proves that citizenship should be a right not a privilege

This article was originally published on February 22, 2023

Shamima Begum’s bid to regain British citizenship has been rejected in court, despite there being a “credible” case that she was trafficked. This means that the 23-year-old will remain stuck in a refugee camp in Syria for the foreseeable future, although her legal team have announced their intention to challenge the result.

After disappearing from the public eye for years, Begum was discovered in 2019 by Anthony Lloyd, a Times war correspondent, living in a refugee camp in Syria for women and children who had escaped Isis. At this point, she was 19 and heavily pregnant, having already lost two children to disease. She told Lloyd that she was desperate to save the life of her unborn baby and wanted to return to Britain. The Times ran the story on the front page; she became once more a national hate figure, and Sajid Javid, Home Secretary at the time, promptly stripped her of her citizenship. Not long after, her baby died of a respiratory infection, aged just three weeks old.

Begum was just 15 years old when she travelled to Syria to join Isis in 2015, along with two classmates who were later killed by airstrikes. She had been groomed for months on the internet and, crucially, was legally a child. She later described herself as being isolated, lonely and detached at the time, which made her vulnerable to the influence of online extremists. At her first appeal, her lawyer said, “At its heart, this case concerns a British child aged 15 who was persuaded, influenced and affected with her friends by a determined and effective Isis propaganda machine.” It was later revealed by Scotland Yard that a people smuggler who was working for Canadian intelligence had helped the girls enter Syria – this is a form of entrapment and, in a sane world, would be considered a mitigating circumstance. During her latest appeal, her lawyers made the case that she was a victim of child trafficking and that she was brought to Syria for the purposes of sexual exploitation, something to which she could not – as a  minor – legally consent. This argument was deemed ‘credible’ by the presiding judge, even as he rejected her appeal.

After he met Begum, Anthony Lloyd reported that she was “still radicalised”, after she suggested that journalists murdered by Isis had been spies and described herself as “unphased” by the sight of a severed head. These remarks, wrote Lloyd in GQ, were “exactly what I would expect from a teen who had spent nearly three years living in the sealed echo chamber of the caliphate before turning 18”. However, he said she also seemed “far from irretrievable”, and expressed disillusionment with Isis: “There’s so much oppression and corruption going on that they don’t deserve victory,” she said. This sounds like someone who could be deradicalised, if given the chance, and she has grown even more remorseful in the time since. During an interview with ITV last year, she apologised to the British public and said she would ‘rather die’ than rejoin ISIS, and offered to help prevent vulnerable young people from being radicalised. There is no good reason why she doesn’t deserve a second chance. 

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  • Source of information and images “dazeddigital”

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