Shamima Begum: Woman who joined ISIS as teenager can’t return, UK top court rules

The UK’s highest court ruled Shamima Begum, a woman who was stripped of her citizenship after fleeing to Syria to join ISIL (ISIS), should not be allowed to return to the country to challenge the decision, because she poses a security risk.

Begum left London in 2015 when she was 15 and travelled to Syria, via Turkey, with two friends from her school.

Now 21, she is currently being held in a detention camp in Syria after her British citizenship was revoked in 2019 by then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid.

Javid argued at the time that Begum was eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, the birth country of her parents.

But international law forbids countries from making people stateless by revoking their only citizenship.

The UK’s Court of Appeal previously agreed she could only have a fair appeal of Javid’s decision if she were allowed back into the country.

In its unanimous ruling on Friday, however, the Supreme Court overturned that decision, meaning that although she can still pursue her appeal against the decision to take away her citizenship, she cannot do that in the UK.

The UK government, guided by intelligence agencies, had argued that those who aligned with ISIL posed a serious risk to national security.

“If a vital public interest – in this case, the safety of the public – makes it impossible for a case to be fairly heard, then the courts cannot ordinarily hear it,” the Supreme Court judges concluded.

In Syria, Begum married an ISIL fighter and lived in Raqqa, the capital of the self-declared caliphate. She had three children since leaving the UK, all of whom have since died.

Her case has been the subject of a heated debate in the UK.

Some say she forsook her right to citizenship by joining ISIL, while others believe she should not be left stateless and must face trial at home.