The case of Shamima Begun is a highly emotive one and a great many people across the country, including many local residents, instinctively feel that she should be stripped of her citizenship.
I do not share their view but I can understand, particularly given Begum’s seeming lack of remorse, why so many people have reacted as they have.
However, the issue is complex.
It’s important to note that Shamima Begum has not been convicted of any crime. From what I know about her case, I suspect there is a chance that she has criminalised herself and if, for whatever reason, she attempted to re-enter the country, I would expect her to be spoken to and if not arrested then certainly investigated to ascertain whether there is sufficient evidence for a prosecution.
In considering a prospection, there are a number of terrorist offences that might be relevant. These include belonging to a proscribed organisation, or attendance at a place used for terrorism training. However, there are obvious difficulties in obtaining evidence of conduct that has taken place abroad, in territory without a functioning criminal justice system that UK authorities could cooperate with.
The Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019 introduced a new offence of “entering or remaining in a designated area” aimed at addressing this difficulty. The new offence would apply to those simply travelling to certain designated parts of the world, without the need to provide evidence of terrorism-related activity whilst there.
If Begum cannot be prosecuted, I take the view that it would still be entirely proper for the security services to assess the ongoing risk she might pose as they do with others who return from the Middle East. There might also be justification to use ’terrorism prevention and investigation measures’ (TPIMs) including overnight residence requirements, electronic tagging, and restrictions on communication and association. There is also the option of a temporary exclusion order, under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which invalidates an individual’s passport, requiring them to apply for a permit to enter the UK.
It is illegal under international law for any country to make its citizens stateless and the Home Secretary and the Government as a whole accept as much. In justifying his decision, the Home Secretary’s contention was that Begum is a dual national owing to the fact that she has Bangladeshi citizenship through her mother. However, the Bangladesh Ministry of Foreign maintains she is not a Bangladeshi citizen and there is “no question” of her being allowed into the country.
The Home Secretary indicated that Begum’s son, Jarrah, would only be given assistance as a British citizen if Begum herself could make her way with him to an Embassy outside Syria, as the UK does not have any consular presence in that state. As such, it was not the Government’s position that Begum’s child be stripped of British citizenship. However, the logical implication of the stance that the Home Secretary took was that Begum and her child would be separated if she attempted to have the UK authorities provide the latter with assistance.
Tragically, Jarrah died in a refugee camp in northern Syria earlier this month. I do not in any way condone the foolish decision that the 15-year-old Shamima Begum made when she decided to travel to the Middle East. However, I do question whether the Home Secretary’s decision to strip her of her citizenship was just given the obvious implications it had for the life of this young child.
I believe that Begum should be allowed to return to the UK with her child to be investigated and prosecuted if appropriate. If she cannot be prosecuted, I believe the security services should monitor her for a prolonged period to determine whether or not she poses a risk.
Begum was radicalised here in the UK, it is therefore our problem to deal with and I do not believe it is right that the Home Secretary has sought to simply hand over the problem to another state for reasons which the cynic in me puts down to his desire to position himself favourably vis-à-vis the Tory grassroots in respect of a future leadership contest.