Shamima Begum – one of three east London schoolgirls who travelled to Syria to join so-called Islamic State – has lost the first stage of a legal challenge against the decision to revoke her British citizenship.
Ms Begum, now 20, left the UK in February 2015 and lived under IS rule for more than three years. She was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February last year.
Former home secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of her British citizenship later that month, a decision Ms Begum’s lawyers argue was unlawful as it rendered her stateless.
Such a decision is lawful only if an individual is entitled to citizenship of another country.
Ms Begum "will immediately initiate an appeal" against the decision that revoking her British citizenship did not render her stateless, her lawyer has said.
Ms Begum heard about the decision only when ITV News Security Editor Rohit Kachroo showed her a copy of the letter at the Syria refugee camp where she was being held at the time.
- Watch the moment Shamima Begum finds out her British citizenship has been revoked
The tribunal, led by SIAC president Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing, ruled on Friday that the decision to revoke Ms Begum's British citizenship did not render her stateless.
Judge Doron Blum, announcing the decision of the tribunal, said that the move did not breach the Home Office's "extraterritorial human rights policy by exposing Ms Begum to a real risk of death or inhuman or degrading treatment".
He added that, while Ms Begum "cannot have an effective appeal in her current circumstances", it "does not follow that her appeal succeeds" on that ground.
Last year, Ms Begum took legal action against the Home Office at the High Court and the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), a specialist tribunal which hears challenges to decisions to remove someone’s British citizenship on national security grounds.
The judgment is also expected to determine whether Ms Begum is able to have a fair and effective appeal from outside the UK, and whether the decision to revoke her British citizenship exposed her to a “real risk” of torture or death.
At a hearing in October, Ms Begum’s barrister Tom Hickman QC said the situation in the al-Roj camp in which Ms Begum was then being held was "incredibly fragile and dangerous", and described conditions at the camp, where Ms Begum’s third child died last March, as "wretched and squalid".
Mr Hickman argued that Ms Begum - who is of British-Bangladeshi heritage - "is not considered a national of Bangladesh and was therefore rendered stateless by the deprivation decision".
He also submitted that conditions in al-Roj – and in the al-Hawl camp from which Ms Begum was moved for her own safety in February – breached Ms Begum’s human rights.
Mr Hickman added the decision “had the effect – and was designed – to prevent” Ms Begum from returning to the UK, leaving her “abandoned” in a detention camp.
This, he said, meant Ms Begum “cannot have a fair and effective appeal” as she is unable to speak confidentially with her lawyers or to give evidence in support of her appeal.
Jonathan Glasson QC, for the Home Office, argued that Ms Begum “was a Bangladeshi citizen by descent, in accordance with Bangladeshi law, and so was not rendered stateless by the deprivation decision”.
He also submitted that Ms Begum “has not been placed at risk of ill-treatment” as a result of the decision to revoke her British citizenship.
“Any risk that the appellant does face arose, and continues to persist, as the result of the appellant having travelled to Syria and aligned with (IS) and is wholly unrelated to the deprivation decision,” he added.
Ms Begum's legal team have said her right to pursue an appeal against the Home Secretary's revoking her citizenship has been in effect rendered meaningless.
In a statement Daniel Furner of Birnberg Peirce Solicitors said: "The stark reality of her situation was brought before the court last year as a matter of exceptional urgency - how could she in any meaningful and fair way challenge the decision to deprive her of her nationality, a young woman in grave danger who had by then lost her three children? Now, in February 2020, the dangers Ms Begum faces have increased; her chance of survival even more precariously balanced than before."
He added: "This judgment will be hard to explain to her. The logic of the decision will appear baffling, accepting as it does they key underlying factual assessments of exteme danger and extreme unfairness and yet declining to provide any legal remedy."
He continued: "As matters stand Ms Begum's right to pursue an appeal against the Home Secretary's deprivation of her citizenship has been in effect rendered meaningless."
A Home Office spokesperson said: "The Government welcomes the judgment of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission on these preliminary issues.
"It would be inappropriate to comment further whilst legal proceedings are ongoing."
Ms Begum, then aged 15, was one of three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy who left their homes and families to join IS, shortly after Sharmeena Begum – who is no relation – travelled to Syria in December 2014.
Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, then 16 and 15 respectively, and Ms Begum boarded a flight from Gatwick Airport to Istanbul, Turkey, on February 17 2015, before making their way to Raqqa in Syria.
Ms Begum claims she married Dutch convert Yago Riedijk 10 days after arriving in IS territory, with all three of her schoolfriends also reportedly marrying foreign IS fighters.
She told The Times last February that she left Raqqa in January 2017 with her husband but her children, a one-year-old girl and a three-month-old boy, had both since died.
Her third child died shortly after he was born.