Exclusive: Shamima Begum staying silent after learning she cannot return to UK

  • Video report by ITV News Global Security Editor Rohit Kachroo

Shamima Begum kept silent after being told she cannot return to the UK to pursue an appeal against the removal of her British citizenship, the Supreme Court has ruled.

ITV News filmed Ms Begum as she walked around refugee camp Al-Roj where she resides in Syria.

But after attempts were later made to reach her in the aftermath of the ruling on Friday, she declined to comment.

Ms Begum at the camp. Credit: ITV News

Ms Begum was wearing sunglasses, a jacket, t-shirt and leggings while being filmed at the camp.

Ms Begum left the UK aged 15 when she and two other east London schoolgirls travelled to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State group (IS) in February 2015.

Her citizenship was revoked on national security grounds by the Home Office shortly after she was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.

Begum walks back to camp site. Credit: ITV News

Ms Begum, now 21, is challenging the decision to remove her British citizenship and wants to be allowed to return to the UK to pursue her appeal, but the Supreme Court have prevented this.

What next for Begum?

This judgment doesn’t actually deal with the status of her citizenship, but the process by which she can contest its deprivation.That appeal has effectively been postponed until she’s able to participate properly.

The 21-year-old will still, in theory, be allowed to continue with her appeal but will have to do so from abroad. 

Ms Begum declined to comment to ITV News. Credit: ITV News

The prospect of being able to mount an effective appeal from a Syrian refugee camp seems a remote one for Ms Begum.

Human rights advocates Liberty say Ms Begum has been denied “the opportunity to participate in her appeal unless and until her circumstances change so that she can participate remotely”.

How did we get to this stage?In July last year, the Court of Appeal ruled that “the only way in which she can have a fair and effective appeal is to be permitted to come into the United Kingdom to pursue her appeal”.

CCTV of (left to right) 15-year-old Amira Abase, Kadiza Sultana, 16, and Shamima Begum, 15 Credit: Met Police

The Home Office challenged that decision in November, by claiming that allowing her to return to the UK “would create significant national security risks” and expose the public to “an increased risk of terrorism”.

On Friday, the UK’s highest court ruled that Ms Begum should not be granted leave to enter the UK to pursue her appeal against the deprivation of her British citizenship.

What did the judge say?

Announcing the decision, Lord Reed said: “The Supreme Court unanimously allows all of the Home Secretary’s appeals and dismisses Ms Begum’s cross-appeal.”

Lord Reed added: “The right to a fair hearing does not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public.

“If a vital public interest makes it impossible for a case to be fairly heard then the courts cannot ordinarily hear it.

“The appropriate response to the problem in the present case is for the deprivation hearing to be stayed – or postponed – until Ms Begum is in a position to play an effective part in it without the safety of the public being compromised.

“That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible.

“But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind.”

Shamima Begum Credit: PA

In the Supreme Court’s written ruling, Lord Reed said: “It is, of course, true that a deprivation decision may have serious consequences for the person in question: although she cannot be rendered stateless, the loss of her British citizenship may nevertheless have a profound effect upon her life, especially where her alternative nationality is one with which she has little real connection.

“But the setting aside of the decision may also have serious consequences for the public interest.

“In such a case, it would be irresponsible for the court to allow the appeal without any regard to the interests of national security which prompted the decision in question, and it is difficult to conceive that the law would require it to do so.”

What have politicians said?

Sajid Javid, who as home secretary at the time took the decision to revoke Shamima Begum’s British citizenship on national security grounds, welcomed the ruling.

He said: “I strongly welcome the Supreme Court’s ruling on Shamima Begum. The Home Secretary is responsible for the security of our citizens and borders, and therefore should have the power to decide whether anyone posing a serious threat to that security can enter our country.

“There are no simple solutions to this situation but any restrictions of rights and freedoms faced by this individual are a direct consequence of the extreme actions that she and others have taken, in violation of government guidance and common morality.”

Tory MP and former Brexit Secretary David Davis tweeted: “Disappointing verdict in the Supreme Court. Regardless of what individuals like Shamima Begum have done, the UK cannot simply wash our hands of Brits in the Syrian camps.

“The correct approach would be to return them to the UK to answer for their crimes.”

What has been said in her defence?

Human rights group Liberty, which intervened in Ms Begum’s case, said the Supreme Court’s ruling sets “an extremely dangerous precedent”.

Rosie Brighouse, a lawyer with Liberty, said: “The right to a fair trial is not something democratic governments should take away on a whim, and nor is someone’s British citizenship.

“If a government is allowed to wield extreme powers like banishment without the basic safeguards of a fair trial it sets an extremely dangerous precedent.

“The security services have safely managed the returns of hundreds of people from Syria but the Government has chosen to target Shamima Begum.

“This approach does not serve justice, it’s a cynical distraction from a failed counter-terror strategy and another example of this Government’s disregard for access to justice and the rule of law.”

Maya Foa, director of the human rights group Reprieve, said: “Barring Shamima Begum from Britain remains a cynical ploy to make her someone else’s responsibility.

“Like many of its European counterparts, the UK is more than capable of bringing home British detainees in Syria, many of whom left as teenagers after being trafficked or groomed online.

“The Government should bring the British families back to the UK so that children can be provided with support they need and adults can be prosecuted where there are charges to answer.

“Abandoning them in a legal black hole – in Guantanamo-like conditions – is out of step with British values and the interests of justice and security."