The ‘Jihadi Bride’ Shamima in Syria: Citizenship Under the Spotlight

Shamima Begum

Image Courtesy of: ABC News

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Few may be familiar with the aforementioned name that has rocked the British media in many ways. Shamima Begum is a case of UK-born Citizenship who was lured through the internet to join a terrorist organization, Islamic State (IS), and waged war against the UK that was fighting IS, effectively denouncing her UK citizenship. After the IS was defeated, she ended up in a refugee camp in Kurdistan, Syria, where she began a legal fight to reclaim her lost UK citizenship.

What were the reasons she joined IS? Why did she abandon the terrorist cause, and why is she now facing legal hurdles on her way back to England? Of more relevance is whether the deprivation of dual Citizenship may one day cause our blood to be declared stateless with no recourse to turn to. Here is my take.

Shamam Begum, who left the United Kingdom to join IS at age 15, has lost her Court of Appeal challenge over the decision to revoke her British citizenship. The UK Appeals Court said the legal arguments canvassed by her advocates claiming she was a victim of circumstances or what the Crown prosecution alleged she was an author of her misfortunes were irrelevant because the judicial review was constrained in only one matter of whether the government of UK broke any law in banishing her citizenship.

The court unanimously ruled that the decision was legal and valid, effectively terminating her citizenship. Shamam Begum may still appeal to the House of Lords, which is the most likely route she will pursue. If she is unsuccessful, she will shift her legal battle to the European Court of Human Rights, where she is likely to get a sympathetic ruling. The European Court of Human Rights is most unlikely to be mesmerized by the UK laws and rulings and is, therefore, likely to reinstate her revoked citizenship on humanitarian grounds.

Shamim Begum was born on 25th August 1999 in England to immigrant parents of Bangladeshi origin and citizenship. She was raised as a Muslim in the Bethnal Green area of Tower Hamlets in East London, where she received her secondary education at the Bethnal Green Academy, and now she is 24 years old. She is a British-born woman of Bangladeshi ancestry who entered Syria to join the terror group Islamic State (IS) at the age of 15 and was consequently stripped of UK citizenship. She now lives in al-Roj refugee camp in Syria.

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It all began one bright summer morning when Shamima Begum flew to Syria in 2015 with two school friends to join the terror group. While there, she married an ISIS fighter, Yago Reidijk, and spent several years living in Raqqa. The man she married was the one who digitally groomed and persuaded her to leave the comforts of her parents’ stately home, flew to Turkey before crossing the border with Syria and joined the terrorist organization IS, where her nightmares began in earnest.

Her Dalliance With IS in Syria

Ten days after arriving in Syria, Shamima married Dutch-born Yago Riedijk, a convert to Islam who had arrived in Syria in October 2014. This marriage may not be recognised under Dutch law since she was underage (15 years old) then. She gave birth to three children, all of whom died young; her youngest child was born in a refugee camp in February 2019 and, by March 2019, had died of a lung infection.

The Daily Telegraph reported that Shamima had been an ‘enforcer’ in IS’s ‘morality police’, and had tried to recruit other young women to join the jihadist group. The report said that she was allowed to carry a Kalashnikov rifle and earned a reputation as a strict enforcer of IS’s laws, such as dress codes for women. An anti-IS activist was also reported by The Daily Telegraph as saying that there were allegations of Begum stitching suicide bombs into explosive vests so they could not be removed without detonating.

Where is Shamima’s Husband Now?

Begum’s lawyers told an appeal against her rescinding of her British citizenship; there was ‘overwhelming’ evidence she was groomed and trafficked by IS for ‘sexual exploitation and marriage to an adult male’. Yago Reidijk, her hubby, was 23 years old when he married her and is now in custody in Syria, where he is held by the Kurdish forces who captured him. The couple are no longer living together as each is now confronting the consequences of their own decisions of flirting with international terror separately from one another.

Yago Riedijk is a Dutch citizen who is wanted in his own country, the Netherlands, where he faces a possible six-year sentence for his involvement with the terrorist organization. So, based on that fact alone, their marriage is illegal in the Netherlands, renders Shamima Begum stateless. Even in her parents’ origin in Bangladesh, the immigration laws are stringently prohibitive. She cannot reclaim her parents’ former citizenship since she is now over 18 years old.

Shamima, apart from being deprived of citizenship naturalization, she would face criminal indictment for taking part in terrorist activities. In Bangladesh, terrorism is a serious crime that may fetch a death sentence that is usually not carried out but is converted to life imprisonment. The death penalty is outlawed in the European Union (EU), which should tighten her immigration case in the EU Court of Human Rights.

Shamima, as she’s in stateless may be akin to sending her to the gas chamber or gallows of death, violating the EU laws that protect human life under any circumstances. Theoretically, apart from being declared stateless, her life is also in jeopardy following the UK official stance that she can reclaim her Bangladeshi parental citizenship. Such a scenario will aid her fight for reinstatement in the EU court of human rights.

Also, read Tanzanian Shilling Vs U.S. Dollars: Money, Banks, and the Question of Trust.

How Many People Have Lost Their UK Citizenship?

According to the UK Home Office, 220 people were stripped of their British citizenship for the public good between 2010 and 2022. That was almost always due to national security concerns. The highest year on record was 2017, when 104 people lost their citizenship. In comparison, three people lost their citizenship in 2022, the latest year for which data is available.

What About Other Countries?

US-born citizens cannot have their status revoked because citizenship is a birth right guaranteed in the US constitution. However, naturalized US citizens – people who have immigrated to the US – can be stripped of their nationality for reasons including being members of a proscribed group, and obtaining citizenship through fraud.

In Australia, a person can have their citizenship removed on national security grounds if they are a dual citizen of another nation.

Citizenship can be removed for treason, disloyalty and other national security reasons in 14 EU states, including Greece, France and Romania. It can also be removed without notice in the Netherlands.

Our Hostility to Dual Citizenship May Render Our Own Diaspora Stateless

We can easily see now it forebodes no good for us if we keep our own diaspora without dual Citizenship in order to shelter them from the vagaries of being rendered stateless by their adopted nationalities. What we see from other countries particularly western countries, is the arbitrariness of deciding whether to strip naturalized citizens of their citizenship.

Although the issue can be challenged in court of law, however, in the US such a path is extremely restricted and in the EU lengthy process and extortionate legal bills may exhaust most of our own diaspora. The money razed there should be best directed to invest in our puny economy rather than enriching filthy rich lawyers in overseas countries.

The author is a Development Administration specialist in Tanzania with over 30 years of practical experience, and has been penning down a number of articles in local printing and digital newspapers for some time now.

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