Shamima Begum would be hanged if she were to return to Bangladesh and is now effectively stateless, her lawyers have said.
Sajid Javid, then the Home Secretary, should have considered the effect of removing Ms Begum’s citizenship, when she had never visited Bangladesh and had no passport for the country.
‘It is clear that he gave no consideration to the prospect that the deprivation decision would render the appellant de facto stateless,’ Dan Squires KC, for Ms Begum said.
Home Office documents show that Begum’s ‘de jure’ status was confirmed internally only on February 18 2019, the day before she had her citizenship removed.
‘There is nothing in any of the Home Secretary’s evidence which suggests that consideration was given – prior to the deprivation decision being taken, or indeed at any time – to matters relating to de facto citizenship,’ Mr Squires said, in submissions.
Shamima Begum (pictured at the Al-Roj refugee camp in Syria last year) would be hanged if she were to return to Bangladesh and is now effectively stateless, her lawyers have said
Her British citizenship was revoked on national security grounds shortly after she was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019
The issues included whether Begum would be recognised by Bangladesh as a citizen, provided with any protection or practical support, or even permitted to enter the country.
‘The Home Secretary has not responded to the allegation that the decision-maker neither directed his mind to this issue, nor took steps such as contacting the Bangladeshi authorities to find out their position regarding the appellant,’ Mr Squires said.
‘In the absence of any response or evidence to the contrary, it is assumed that the allegation is well founded.’
Had such enquiries been carried out, ‘the clear inference is that the Bangladeshi authorities would have provided the Home Secretary with information consistent with their subsequent public statements concerning the appellant,’ he added.
In the statements, the Bangladeshi authorities said they did not consider Begum to be a Bangladeshi citizen, and would provide her with no assistance.
‘On the contrary, the Bangladesh authorities would have confirmed that the appellant would be hanged if she entered the country,’ Mr Squires said.
‘This was their stark position in respect of the appellant as set out in the public statements of the Bangladeshi authorities immediately after the decision was taken.’
Begum (centre) was one of three UK teenagers at Bethnal Green Academy who travelled to join ISIS in February 2015, with Kadira Sultana (left), 16, and Amira Abase (right), 15. Sultana is believed to have died in an airstrike in May 2016 while Abase’s whereabouts are unknown
Ms Begum, now 23, is challenging the Home Office’s decision to remove her British citizenship, with her lawyers arguing that the department had a legal duty to investigate whether she was a victim of trafficking
On February 20 2019, the day following the deprivation decision, the Bangladeshi government issued a press release stating that they disputed Begum’s Bangladeshi citizenship and would not permit her to enter Bangladesh.
In the statement, they said: ‘The Government of Bangladesh is deeply concerned that Shamima Begum has been erroneously identified as a holder of dual citizenship shared with Bangladesh alongside her birthplace, the United Kingdom.
‘Bangladesh asserts that Ms Shamima Begum is not a Bangladeshi citizen. She is a British citizen by birth and has never applied for dual nationality with Bangladesh.
‘It may also be mentioned that she has never visited Bangladesh in the past despite her parental lineage. So, there is no question of her being allowed to enter into Bangladesh.’
Ms Begum’s lawyers said: ‘It is clear that, had the Home Secretary made inquiries as to the practical effect of depriving the appellant of her citizenship, he would likely have understood that the appellant could be left without the protection of any state, in the dire conditions of the al-Roj camp.
‘He would have been aware that the deprivation decision was likely to render the appellant de facto stateless.’
‘It was, or ought to have been, known to the Home Secretary, that even where deprivation does not result in de jure statelessness, it may render a person de facto stateless, with extremely serious practical consequences.’
Consideration of the likely impact of deprivation on the appellant required the Home Secretary to consider whether Bangladesh was likely to provide her with protection as a national, or allow her to enter and reside in Bangladesh, and if not, what the impact of be de facto stateless would have on the appellant.
The government said the issue ought to have been raised at Ms Begum’s initial hearing in front of SIAC in October 2019.
They accused her lawyers of using the argument as a ‘Trojan horse to relitigate this issue.’
‘It is submitted that this is an abuse of process or, in the alternative, that Ms Begum is stopped from raising this issue in these proceedings,’ they said.
MI5 made an assessment that ‘deprivation was the most effective risk mitigation.’
‘For completeness and for the avoidance of doubt, the Security Service continue to assess that Ms Begum poses a risk to national security,’ they said.
The Home Office lawyers said that the argument ‘appears to amount to an assertion that the Secretary of State is under a duty to seek the views of foreign governments before he decides whether to deprive one of their nationals of their British citizenship.
‘Such an argument, were SIAC to accept it, would have very serious consequences – indeed, it would likely render the entire deprivation regime inoperable.’
They said it would be ‘relatively straightforward’ for a foreign government to disavow that an individual either is a national or state that they would not be treated as one, even where that had no basis in the nationality laws of that state.
The Home Secretary failed to consider whether Begum was prevented from leaving ISIS-controlled territory because she was a ‘child bride’ facing threats of violence, abuses of power, and other forms of coercion or persuasion, her lawyers said.
‘It is well-known that once in ISIS-controlled territory in Syria, girls and women who did in fact try to escape their husbands and ISIS, were detained and violently punished, as well as having their passports confiscated, which also prevented escape,’ they said.
The Home Office accept that it was ‘difficult’ but not ‘near impossible’, giving the example of one British individual who left ISIS in early 2015.
But her lawyers said: ‘The Home Secretary gave no consideration to the known circumstances of a young female, living under ISIS control from the age of 15, given in marriage and the obvious barriers to escape, practically or psychologically – especially taking into account the fact that she was still a teenager, pregnant for significant periods of time, and responsible for caring for infant children.
‘As such, the very significant period of her adolescence was spent in a situation where she was unable to make any choices about her life and indeed her significant life experience was that of the child bride.’