By Alice Brooks
It’s been five years since three teenagers from East London ditched school to catch a Turkey-bound flight with the intention of joining the Jihad in Syria. Shamima Begum (15), Amira Abase (15) and Kadiza Sultana (16), were hailed the Bethnal Green Trio by the media when they made the life-changing decision to flee the UK in search of new lives in the Islamic State (IS).
Initially, the families of the schoolgirls thought they were travelling to IS territory in search of fellow classmate, Sharmeena Begum (no relation), who had made the journey in 2014. In response to this, Education Secretary at the time, Nicky Morgan, wished the girls a safe return to the UK, in a letter written to the principal of Bethnal Green Academy. Despite this optimism, it quickly became clear that the three had travelled with the hopes of joining the IS terrorist organisation.
For more than three years, Begum lived under the ruling of the IS. Within ten days of arriving, the fifteen-year-old was married off to Dutch extremist, Yago Riedijk, who joined the terrorist organisation when he converted to Islam in October 2014. She told Sky News: ‘I was just a housewife for the entire four years. Stayed at home and took care of my kids’. She had three children, all of whom are now deceased.
During her time in occupied Syria, Begum built herself a notable reputation within the radicalistic network working as ISIL’s ‘morality police’ to recruit other young women and promote the jihadist group – sources told the Daily Telegraph. In addition to this role, she has been allowed to carry various automatic weapons in order to strictly enforce the women’s dress code. There have also been statements made by an anti-ISIL activist, telling the Independent, that “Begum [stitched] suicide bombers into explosive vests so they could not be removed without detonating”.
Begum hit the news for the first time since her disappearance, on the 13th of February 2019, after The Times’ war correspondent, Anthony Loyd, found her at the al-Hawl refugee camp in Northern Syria. It came to light that Begum was living in the camp while nine months pregnant with her third child, with the aim of returning to the UK.
When interviewed, Begum said that she wished to give her next child a ‘better life’ in the UK which sparked public debate as to whether Begum should be allowed to return to the country. However, only a few days later, she gave birth to her son, named Jarrah, who passed away in March 2019 due to pneumonia at less than three weeks old.
Only 24 hours after discovering the, now 20-year-old, Jihadi bride in Northern Syria, Sajid Javid – then home secretary – issued an order to revoke her British citizenship on the grounds of national security. The British government can only legally do this if the individual has dual citizenship or is eligible for citizenship elsewhere, otherwise, they would become stateless, according to Article 8(1) of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Person. This is the aspect up for debate in current affairs.
It has been reported that Begum is eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship until she turns 21, under the ‘blood line law’, as her parents are of Bangladeshi descent. However, because she hasn’t applied for it already, the government of Bangladesh has said she would not be entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship by virtue of her parents.
Alternatively, the British government has claimed Begum could be eligible for Dutch citizenship due to her marriage to Dutch-born husband, Yago Reidijk. Regardless of what the British government claimed, the marriage would not be recognised under Dutch law as Begum was underage at the time.
So, with both Bangladesh and the Netherlands refusing Begum’s eligibility for citizenship, Javid’s decision was heavily criticised by Begum’s immediate family members. Most of them supported Begum who went forward with legal action against the Home Office, claiming the decision was unlawful due to this rendering her stateless.
However, the family were divided as Begum’s cousin, Muhammad Rahman urged the public to stand with the government’s decision by saying: ‘the information they have is to the best of their ability and the British people should support it’.
With Begum and her family failing to prove otherwise, The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled the Home Secretary’s decision, to revoke Begum’s citizenship, as lawful. SIAC claim that at the time of the appeal, Begum was ‘a citizen of Bangladesh by descent’. However, on the 3rd of May 2020, Abdul Momen, Bangladeshi foreign minister, claimed Begum was not eligible for citizenship in the country, standing by the government’s original statement. He added that if she ever entered Bangladesh, she would be punished by death penalty because of the nation’s ‘zero-tolerance policy’ towards terrorism.
With the lack of success finding refuge elsewhere, Shamima Begum is trying a second time to have her British citizenship reinstated. On the 16th of July 2020, the Court of Appeal decided that Begum would be allowed to return to the UK in order to contest the British government’s decision. However, due to the government stating they would never let her return, it is still unclear as to how she will come back to plead her case.