Britain has said that it is revoking the citizenship of Shamima Begum, a teenager who four years ago fled to become an “ISIS bride” and has attracted widespread public attention for her effort to return home with her new baby.
The government’s decision came as the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, was losing the last of its territory in Syria and countries across Europe are struggling with what to do about their citizens who went to fight on behalf of the terrorist group.
The British Home Office informed Begum’s family members of its decision in a letter Tuesday and asked them to make their daughter aware of the potential for her to appeal.
“It’s kind of heartbreaking to read,” a teary Begum, 19, told an ITV News reporter who showed her a copy of the letter. “My family made it sound like it would be a lot easier for me to come back to the U.K. when I was speaking to them in Baghouz. It’s kind of hard to swallow.”
Begum is living in a Syrian refugee camp, where she gave birth to a boy last weekend. Her baby also has potential claims of British citizenship.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament on Wednesday: “Children should not suffer, so if a parent loses their British citizenship it does not affect the rights of their child.”
Under British law, the home secretary can revoke citizenship if it is “conducive to the public good” and if it does not make a person stateless. More than 100 dual nationals were stripped of their British citizenship in 2017.
Some immigration experts have suggested that because Begum’s parents are from Bangladesh, she could claim citizenship there.
But Bangladesh said Wednesday that she “is not a Bangladeshi citizen.”
“She is a British citizen by birth and never applied for dual nationality with Bangladesh,” Foreign Affairs Minister Shahriar Alam said in a statement, adding: “There is no question of her being allowed to enter into Bangladesh.”
Tasnime Akunjee, the lawyer representing the family, said Begum, who was born and raised in the east London area of Bethnal Green, “never had a Bangladeshi passport.”
“The government is not going to win this,” Akunjee told the Independent newspaper. “There is case law saying people in these circumstances are stateless and we will win.”
Fahad Ansari, an immigration lawyer who is not involved in the case, said children of Bangladeshi parents are automatically citizens at birth. This lapses at age 21 if they do not make an effort to retain that citizenship.
He added that Begum’s lawyers could still argue that she was now “de facto stateless,” because she is in a war zone with no travel documents or access to consular services. She has “no way of benefiting or asserting that citizenship,” he said.
Speaking with ITV, Begum said that perhaps she could apply for citizenship in the Netherlands, which is where her husband is from.