The family of a London teenager who joined the Islamic State group in Syria said on Friday, February 22 that they would challenge the British government’s decision to revoke her citizenship.
Shamima Begum travelled to Syria in 2015 aged just 15 but has now fled the crumbling “caliphate” and says she wants to come home, after giving birth in a refugee camp last weekend.
A letter to interior minister Sajid Javid written by Begum’s sister Renu on behalf of her family also called on the government to help bring her newborn son to the United Kingdom.
The fate of the 19-year-old has triggered fierce debate in Britain, with the government telling her family this week that it was revoking her citizenship.
“We hope you understand our position in this respect and why we must, therefore, assist Shamima in challenging your decision to take away the one thing that is her only hope at rehabilitation, her British citizenship,” the family’s letter said.
Renu Begum’s letter also asked Javid to help “in bringing my nephew home to us.”
It said Shamima Begum’s status would now be a matter for British courts to decide.
‘Shocked’ by decision
International law prevents a government from rendering a person stateless, but the U.K. reportedly believes that Begum also has Bangladeshi citizenship due to her parents, although she was born in Britain.
The Bangladeshi government said there was “no question” of her being allowed to enter, and there is legal argument about whether simply having Bangaldeshi parents bestows citizenship.
Begum’s baby was born before she was told of the decision to revoke her citizenship, and is therefore British and has a right to return.
The teenager said she was “shocked” by Britain’s decision, saying “if you take that away from me, I don’t have anything. I don’t think they are allowed to do that.”
She has mentioned the possibility of applying for citizenship in the Netherlands because her husband, an ISIS fighter believed to be held by Kurdish forces in Syria, is a Dutch national.
‘Set fire to nation’s emotions’
Public sentiment hardened against Begum after she showed little remorse in initial interviews from the refugee camp.
Her family said on Friday they were “shocked and appalled” at the “vile comments” she made in the media.
“I have watched Shamima on our televisions open her mouth and set fire to our nation’s emotions,” said her sister’s letter.
“These are not representative of British values, and my family entirely reject the comments she has made, but … we as her family cannot simply abandon her.”
The family argued that it made “every fathomable effort” to prevent her from joining ISIS, which it called a “murderous and misogynistic cult.”
Begum and two school friends fled her east London home to join the terror network four years ago.
With ISIS crumbling, many European countries are now having to confront whether to bring back its citizens who traveled to join the group and prosecute them at home, or bar them from entry over security concerns.
Some 400 people who joined ISIS in the early stages of the Syria conflict have since returned to the U.K. and around 40 of them have been prosecuted.
There are believed to be around 10 British women who traveled to support ISIS who are now refugees in Syria.
Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Tuesday that Begum should be allowed to return.
“Taking somebody’s citizenship away is not the right thing to do. I think she should be brought back.”
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 U.K.,” he said.
He has previously said that more than 100 individuals had already been deprived of their British citizenship.
On Wednesday, the Independent reported that the number of people deprived of their citizenship had jumped 600 percent in a year.
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,” he said.
With reporting from AFP