Britain strips citizenship from IS-group bride Shamima Begum
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Britain stripped a teenager who travelled to Syria to join the IS group of her citizenship on security grounds, triggering a row over the ramifications of leaving a 19-year-old mother with a jihadist fighter's child to fend for herself in a war zone.
The fate of 19-year-old Shamima Begum, who was found in a detention camp in Syria last week, has illustrated the ethical, legal and security conundrum that governments face when dealing with the families of militants who swore to destroy the West.
With the Islamic State (IS) group depleted and Kurdish-led militia poised to seize the group's last holdout in eastern Syria, Western capitals are trying to work out what to do with battle-hardened foreign jihadist fighters, and their wives and children.
Begum, who gave birth to a son at the weekend, prompted a public backlash in Britain by appearing unrepentant about seeing severed heads and even claiming the 2017 Manchester suicide attack - that killed 22 people - was justified.
She had pleaded to be repatriated back to her family in London and said that she was not a threat.
But ITV News published a Feb. 19 letter from the interior ministry to her mother that said Home Secretary Sajid Javid had taken the decision to deprive Begum of her British citizenship.
"In light of the circumstances of your daughter, the notice of the Home Secretary's decision has been served of file today, and the order removing her British citizenship has subsequently been made," the letter said.
The letter asked Begum's mother to inform her daughter of the decision and set out the appeal process.
When asked about the decision, a spokesman said Javid's priority was "the safety and security of Britain and the people who live here".
Begum said the order was “unjust”.
"I am a bit shocked," she told ITV News after learning of the move, which was announced in a letter Tuesday from the British government to her mother in London. "It's a bit upsetting and frustrating. I feel like it's a bit unjust on me and my son."
All children have ‘right to a nationality’, UN says
"Any decisions to deprive individuals of their citizenship are based on all available evidence and they are not taken lightly," Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said on Wednesday. He declined to comment on the individual case of Begum.
On the wake of UK’s decision, the United Nations urged countries not to leave children of foreign fighters in legal limbo. The UN children's agency, UNICEF, said all children have "the right to a name, an identity and a nationality" according to international laws and governments had a responsibility to adopt safeguards that prevent a child from being born stateless.
"But where this occurs, those children need legal-aid and support to ensure no child is denied their right to citizenship," UNICEF said in an email to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Begum was one of three outwardly studious schoolgirls who slipped away from their lives in London's Bethnal Green area in February 2015 to fly to Turkey and then over the border into the cauldron of the Syrian civil war.
Begum, who is of Bangladeshi heritage, was born in Britain, has never had a Bangladeshi passport and is not a dual citizen, according to Tasnime Akunjee, a lawyer for her family, even though the Home Office reportedly believes that she is entitled to claim citizenship in the South Asian country.
The country’s foreign ministry in Dhaka said on Wednesday there was “no question” of her being allowed to enter the country. It added it was "deeply concerned that she has been erroneously identified as a holder of dual citizenship shared with Bangladesh alongside her birthplace, the United Kingdom".
In a statement, it added: "She is a British citizen by birth and has never applied for dual nationality with Bangladesh".
London to Syria
IS group propaganda videos enticed Begum to swap London for Raqqa, a step she still says she does not regret. She said she fled the self-styled caliphate because she wanted to give birth away from the fighting.
"When I saw my first severed head in a bin it didn’t faze me at all. It was from a captured fighter seized on the battlefield, an enemy of Islam," she told The Times, which first discovered her in the camp in Syria.
She was equally harsh when describing the videos she had seen of the beheaded Western hostages, The Times said.
Begum has named her newborn, Jerah, in accordance with the wishes of her jihadist husband, Yago Riedijk, a Dutch convert from Arnhem. He was tortured on suspicion of spying by the IS group but later released.
Another son, also called Jerah, died at eight months old. A daughter, Sarayah, also died aged one year and nine months, The Times said.
Akunjee said he could seek to challenge the British government's decision to deprive her of citizenship.
"We are considering all legal avenues to challenge this decision," said Begum’s family's lawyer.
British law does allow the interior minister to deprive a person of British citizenship when conducive to the public good, though such decisions should not render the person stateless if they were born as British citizens.
Britain's opposition Labour Party said the government's decision was wrong.
"If the government is proposing to make Shamima Begum stateless it is not just a breach of international human rights law but is a failure to meet our security obligations to the international community," Diane Abbott, Labour spokeswoman on home issues.
Ken Clarke, a former Conservative minister, said he was surprised that Home Secretary Javid's lawyers had given him such advice.
"What you can't do is leave them in a camp in Syria being even more radicalised... until they disperse themselves through the world and make their way back here," he said.
"I think the Germans, the French and ourselves have got to work out how to deal with this difficult and, I accept, dangerous problem," he said.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)