July 20. 2024. 12:19

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UK thinks Begum may have been a trafficking victim, so why is she a threat?


Shamima Begum, a 15-year-old child who left the UK to join the Islamic State group in 2015, lost her challenge over the decision to deprive her of British citizenship, with the ruling admitting she may have been a victim of child trafficking but could pose a ‘threat’ nonetheless.

Shamima Begum was 15 years old when she got on a plane at Gatwick Airport and travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State group. While there, she married a fighter within the group and had three children, all of whom died.

In 2019, former home secretary Sajid Javid moved to strip Begum of her British citizenship, which meant she could no longer return to the UK. Begum’s lawyer accused Javid of cancelling her citizenship to further his agenda of becoming prime minister. Since then, Begum has been fighting to reinstate her British citizenship, with her lawyers arguing that she was a child victim of trafficking.

“The whole counter-terrorism countering violent extremism policing over that period was so very difficult to separate from the fear of Muslim extremists,” Dr Emma Briant, a Fellow at Bard College and an expert on counter-terrorism, propaganda and media coverage of refugees, told EURACTIV.

“I think there has been an Islamophobia that is very difficult to separate from that,” she added.

Timeline of Begum’s case

In 2020, a tribunal ruled that removing Begum’s citizenship was lawful because she was also a Bangladeshi citizen, meaning that stripping her of her British citizenship would not leave her stateless.

In 2021, the Supreme Court ruled that Begum would not be allowed to return to the UK to appeal against the decision and needed to remain in a camp controlled by armed guards in northern Syria. Begum challenged this decision at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). According to her lawyers, the decision was unlawful as it did not consider that she may have been a child victim of trafficking.

On Wednesday, the SIAC ruled that, while it may have been possible that Begum was a child victim of trafficking, she had subsequently become a threat. But would it not be a country’s responsibility to help a victim of child trafficking and rehabilitate someone who grew up there?

“It’s a child who has been groomed, and I think that child welfare aspect and producing an outcome that actually not just keeps the country safe, but considers our humanitarian responsibilities is really important,” Briant told EURACTIV.

Could the ruling be changed?

“If you look into it, there are cases where girls and young people who are white extremists have been treated much more linearly. And, quite honestly, revoking somebody’s citizenship, when it’s a child, and they’ve been groomed, we need a little humanity,” said Briant.

And she’s right: in other instances, treatment was different.

In January 2022, the Home Office decided to drop terrorism charges against a teenage girl for acts she had committed as a 14-year-old after it was determined she was a victim of trafficking.

Similar to Begum, this girl was accused of holding extreme right-wing beliefs.

“If she was white and called Sharon from Manchester, it wouldn’t even occur to the govt to take the passports of somebody ‘obviously’ British,” former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron told The News Agents.

Interestingly, last year, a cross-party group of MPs and peers concluded that IS managed to traffic vulnerable British women and girls, owing to systematic failings within UK institutions, Maya Foa, the director of Reprieve, a human rights charity, wrote in The Guardian.“We should judge the government’s failure to take responsibility,” rather than judge Begum, wrote Foa.

“It raises questions over why the case of Islamic extremism should be treated so differently to white nationalist extremist grooming,” said Briant.

In the end, the court ruled it is possible Begum may have been a child victim of trafficking, but she was also a threat. However, “revoking citizenship is also the UK government shirking its duty to ensure a safe outcome in terrorist cases,” Briant told EURACTIV.

(Sofia Stuart Leeson | EURACTIV.com)