A court heard that there is ‘overwhelming evidence’ Shamima Begum was a victim of human trafficking when she left the United Kingdom.
Shamima Begum, a jihadi bride who left the UK to join ISIS with her teenage friends but according to her lawyers, she was a victim of human trafficking and should return to the UK because she is ‘unsafe’ in a Syrian refugee camp.
Begum was 15 when she and two other schoolgirls fled east London in Feb. 2015 to join Islamic State in Syria. She was discovered nine months pregnant in a Syrian refugee camp in 2019. Her British citizenship was withdrawn shortly after by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid due to national security concerns.
Ms. Begum, now 21, is appealing the Home Office’s decision to remove her of her British citizenship and has sought a specialist tribunal to investigate whether she was a victim of human trafficking while in Syria.
The Home Office claims she is a national security threat and should not be permitted to return to the UK or become a British citizen, despite her parents being Bangladeshis.
Begum’s lawyers told the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) on Friday that when her citizenship was withdrawn, the Home Office had a legal obligation to investigate whether she was a victim of human trafficking.
In February, the Supreme Court ruled that she could not return to the UK to file an appeal against her citizenship being revoked.
Ms. Begum married a Dutch ISIS soldier just days after landing in Syria in 2015, and both have been imprisoned by anti-ISIS forces. The couple had three children, all of whom died.
Samantha Knights, her lawyer, told a hearing of a specialist immigration court that there was evidence of human trafficking that the government should examine.
“The counter-terrorism unit has suspicions as to coercion and control, which, of themselves give rise to the need to investigate the issue of trafficking,” she told the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.
Begum’s legal team claimed that the Home Office neglected to assess whether she was “a child trafficked to, and remaining in, Syria for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced marriage.”
Begum also intends to appeal her loss of British citizenship, claiming that it made her “de facto stateless” and that the decision was procedurally unfair.
Ms. Knights told the court that Begum is being kept in the al-Roj camp in northern Syria, run by the Syrian Democrat Forces (SDF), where she is detained in ‘dire’ conditions. She also requested that SIAC consider her proposed new grounds of appeal.
“Ms. Begum … is in a fundamentally unsafe environment in a camp run by the SDF.
‘Physical violence is common and psychological trauma is endemic,” Ms Knights said.
David Blundell, who represents the Home Office, said she shouldn’t be allowed to change her grounds again, and that it’s “significant” because the allegation isn’t that she was trafficked, but that she might have been.
He dismissed her claim as “entirely speculative,” noting that Ms Begum had never claimed to have been trafficked, , “despite having given numerous media interviews and provided instructions to her solicitors on a number of matters”.
Blundell added: “Although Ms Begum focuses on the fact that she left at 15, she ignores the fact that she remained in Isil (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) territory in Syria for a considerable period of time as an adult, only leaving when the so-called caliphate fell.”
According to the Home Office, Begum’s case should also be temporarily suspended until a separate case before SIAC, which is set to be heard next March, is concluded.