Shamima Begum can’t return to the UK to fight for her British citizenship - what the Supreme Court ruled

Friday, 26th February 2021, 12:07 pm
Updated Friday, 26th February 2021, 12:07 pm

Shamima Begum will not be allowed to return to the UK to fight the decision to revoke her British citizenship, the Supreme Court has ruled.

Begum, 21, left the UK for Syria with friends to join the Islamic State group when she was 15.

She wants to come back to challenge the Home Office’s decision to strip her of her British nationality.

So, who is Shamima Begum, why was her British citizenship revoked - and why has the Supreme Court ruled that she can’t return to fight the decision?

Here is everything you need to know.

Who is Shamima Begum?

Shamima Begum, born in Britain to parents of Bangladeshi heritage, was one of three schoolgirls from east London who travelled to Syria to join IS in February 2015.

She travelled via Turkey to IS headquarters in the city of Raqqa.

There, Begum married a Dutch recruit and lived under IS rule for more than three years.

In February 2019, she was found in a Syrian refugee camp when she was nine months pregnant.

Her baby died of pneumonia shortly after being born, and Begum said she had already lost two other children.

After she was discovered, her British citizenship was revoked on national security grounds by then-home secretary Sajid Javid.

Speaking to Sky News days after her third baby was born, Begum said “a lot of people should have sympathy” for her, since there was no evidence she had done anything dangerous.

One of Begum’s friends that travelled with her to Syria, Kadiza Sultana, was reportedly killed in a bombing raid.

It is unknown where the third schoolgirl, Amira Abase, is.

Begum is currently in a camp controlled by armed guards in northern Syria.

Why was she stripped of her citizenship?

Citizenship is the right to live in a country, and in the UK that means a person is entitled to the same rights as others such as welfare, education, healthcare and voting.

Someone’s citizenship can be revoked for the following reasons:

  • It is “for the public good” and would not make them stateless
  • The person obtained citizenship through fraud
  • Their actions could harm UK interests and they can claim citizenship somewhere else.

Begum was stripped of her citizenship by Mr Javid under the “public good” reason two years ago.

She appealed in court against the Home Office’s decision, with the Court of Appeal ruling that she should be allowed to return to the UK to fight her case.

It said the only fair way forward was to allow Begum into the country as she could not effectively appeal from the Syrian camp.

But in November, the Home Office appealed that decision at the Supreme Court, arguing that permitting Begum to come back to the UK “would create significant national security risks” and cause “an increased risk of terrorism”.

Removing citizenship can involve threats to national security, including terrorism or serious organised crime.

The UK also has responsibilities under international law to ensure people are not left stateless.

In February 2020, a tribunal ruled that revoking Begum’s citizenship was lawful because she was a “citizen of Bangladesh by descent".

But Bangladesh has said that is not the case and she would not be allowed into the country.

Why can’t she return to fight the decision?

The Supreme Court ruled on Friday 26 February that Begum will not be allowed to return to the UK to contest her citizenship case.

In an unanimous decision, which saw all five justices in agreement, the court ruled that Begum’s rights were not breached when she was refused permission to return to Britain.

Lord Reed, president of the Supreme Court, said: "The Supreme Court unanimously allows all of the home secretary's appeals and dismisses Ms Begum's cross-appeal.

"The right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public."

He added that the Court of Appeal’s decision had been a mistake and didn’t take proper account of the home secretary’s case.

"The Court of Appeal mistakenly believed that, when an individual's right to have a fair hearing... came into conflict with the requirements of national security, her right to a fair hearing must prevail.

"But the right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public,” Lord Reed added.

He said the appropriate way forward was to pause Begum’s legal fight over citizenship until she was in a safer position to take part in her appeal.

"That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible. But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind,” Lord Reed said.

Begum can’t speak to her lawyers or participate in a hearing by video as she is living in the camp in northern Syria.

The UK Government has revoked the citizenship of about 150 British nationals on grounds of national security - so a different ruling could have had huge implications.