Shamima Begum was a victim of human trafficking, tribunal told

Shamima Begum was a “child victim of trafficking”, a tribunal looking at the removal of her UK citizenship was told.  

The appeal over the removal of her citizenship in 2019 for joining ISIL began in court yesterday, with lawyers arguing that revoking her passport was unlawful as it did not consider the “overwhelming” evidence that she was a victim of human trafficking.

Human rights groups say Begum, who has since said she regrets her decision, was lured to Syria in 2015 along with two school friends. But the government says she is a danger and should not return to the UK.

Her lawyers said the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s decision to remove Begum’s British citizenship was “over-hasty” and made her “effectively an exile for life.” They added it was a “disproportionate means of addressing any alleged national security risk.”

According to a recently released book, Begum and her teenage friends were trafficked by a double agent who worked for ISIL and Canadian intelligence.  

The revelations reinforced concerns that the girls were groomed and trafficked — and raised questions about Britain’s role and decision to strip Begum of her citizenship.

Begum, now 23, lives in a detention camp in northern Syria. She had three children all of whom died young. Her two companions, Sultana and Abase, are believed to be dead or missing.  

Grooomed and trafficked

In written submissions, her lawyer said the Home Office revoked her citizenship “without seeking to investigate and determine, still less consider, whether she was a child victim of trafficking.”

They also said that Begum was “recruited, transported, transferred, harboured and received in Syria for the purposes of sexual exploitation.”

Samantha Knights, representing Begum, said: “At its heart, this case concerns a British child aged 15 who was persuaded, influenced and affected with her friends by a determined and effective ISIS (ISIL) propaganda machine.”

She continued: “She was following a well-known pattern by which ISIS cynically recruited and groomed female children, as young as 14, so that they could be offered as ‘wives’ to adult men.”

Home Office lawyers said it was correct to deprive Begum of her citizenship, alleging that she was “aware of the nature of the group when she travelled.”

When asked whether the Security Service considered trafficking in their threat assessment of Begum, an unnamed British intelligence officer, said: “I think it’s worth noting how MI5 are experts in national security threats and not the definition of trafficking. We consider whether someone is a threat and it is important to note we recognise that victims can be threats if someone is a victim of trafficking.”

Philip Larkin, a witness for the Home Office, said there was “no formal conclusion” on whether Miss Begum was a victim of human trafficking. He also refused to answer questions about the involvement of the Canadian spy, saying that he would address those points in closed court proceedings.

The hearing, which is expected to last five days, continues.

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