LONDON (AFP) — A London teenager who joined the Islamic State group in Syria was on Wednesday facing the prospect of being stateless after Britain revoked her citizenship and authorities in Bangladesh, where her family is from, said they would not take her in.
Shamima Begum traveled to Syria in 2015 aged just 15, but after giving birth in a refugee camp last weekend, she wants to come home.
Now 19, Begum said she was “shocked” at the decision by Britain to revoke her citizenship, a move announced in a letter to her family in Britain, according to their lawyer.
It was reported that she could be eligible for automatic citizenship in Bangladesh, where her mother is believed to be from, but the foreign ministry in Dhaka rejected this.
“She is a British citizen by birth and has never applied for dual nationality with Bangladesh,” it said.
“It may also be mentioned that she never visited Bangladesh in the past despite her parental lineage. So, there is no question of her being allowed to enter into Bangladesh.”
Speaking to the BBC in the refugee camp in eastern Syria, where she arrived after fleeing fighting between the IS group and US-backed forces, Begum said she was British.
“I have one citizenship… and if you take that away from me, I don’t have anything. I don’t think they are allowed to do that,” she said.
She had earlier told ITV News that Britain’s decision was “unjust”, but said she might consider applying for citizenship in The Netherlands.
Her husband, an IS fighter believed to be held by Kurdish forces in Syria, is Dutch.
“Maybe I can ask for citizenship in Holland,” said Begum. “If he gets sent back to prison in Holland I can just wait for him while he is in prison.”
The Dutch authorities refused to comment but experts said Begum stood little chance of being accepted because she would have to satisfy a stringent list of requirements.
Her family’s lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee said he was “considering all legal avenues to challenge” Britain’s decision.
Begum’s fate has stirred controversy since she and two school friends fled her east London home to join the terror network four years ago.
The case highlights a dilemma facing many European countries, divided over whether to allow jihadists and IS sympathizers home to face prosecution or bar them over security concerns as the so-called “caliphate” crumbles.
Interior minister Sajid Javid told lawmakers Wednesday that revoking citizenship was “a powerful tool” not used lightly.
“But when someone turns their back on (our) fundamental values and supports terror they don’t have an automatic right to return to the UK,” he said.
He has previously said that more than 100 individuals had already been deprived of their British citizenship.
Children should not suffer
Javid noted on Wednesday that international law that means Britain can only do this if it will not leave the person stateless, if they are a dual national or “in some limited circumstances they have the right to citizenship elsewhere”.
Javid hinted that Begum’s newborn son — her third child, after her previous son and daughter died in recent months — could be treated differently.
“Children should not suffer, so if a parent does lose their British citizenship it does not affect the rights of their child,” the minister said.
Begum appealed to British authorities to show “compassion” by allowing her to raise the baby in Britain.
But she inflamed public opinion back home by saying in her first interview with The Times last week that she had no regrets about joining the jihadists.
In her latest BBC interview, she expressed more remorse.
“I was hoping Britain would understand I made a mistake, a very big mistake, because I was young and naive,” she said.
Begum was born in Britain, has never had a Bangladeshi passport and is not a dual citizen, her family’s lawyer said.