The family of British ISIS bride Shamima Begum “support” but “do not recognize” their deeply damaged daughter, who should not be stripped of UK citizenship, their lawyer told CNN on Monday.
Begum left London four years ago to join ISIS in Syria, and the UK government plans to revoke her citizenship to prevent her from returning home.
While Begum’s family has yet to make contact with the 19-year-old – who earlier this month gave birth to a son and is sheltering in a Syrian refugee camp – it is concerned that the UK is acting illegally by stripping her of citizenship.
“Begum would be traumatized and – it’s fair to assume – would be damaged,” family lawyer Tasnime Akunjee said. “But we don’t leave damaged children… in a war zone to fend for themselves.
“Particularly when her child is only a week old, is a British citizen, and we’re very concerned about bringing him back as a primary issue,” Akunjee added.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid’s decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship has sparked debate about its legality, and speculation that the politician is pandering to the damning coverage of Begum in the right-wing press.
According to the Home Office, British citizenship can be revoked, unless it renders “the individual stateless.”
Begum’s family is of Bangladeshi origin. However, the Bangladesh foreign ministry said Begum is not a Bangladeshi citizen – nor has she ever visited the country.
“She is a British citizen by birth and has never applied for dual nationality with Bangladesh… There is no question of her being allowed to enter into Bangladesh,” the ministry said in a statement.
Last year, hundreds of Britons returned to the UK having fought with groups such as ISIS, and Akunjee questioned where Begum fell in the scale of “dangerousness.”
“The idea that Shamima Begum… radicalized as a child, with a very small child of her own, poses a greater risk than those 400 returnees… is something we’d like to raise,” he said.
He added that the family was not concerned with how “remorseful” Begum was, but instead the prospect of her statelessness.
Akunjee said Begum’s previous interviews with British newspapers – in which she said she had no regrets – needed to be assessed in the light of her position within a refugee camp packed full of ISIS supporters.
Citizenship status a ‘can of worms’
Hashi Mohamed – a lawyer who helped write a report on deprivation of nationality with the UK’s previous reviewer of terrorism legislation, David Anderson – told CNN that the attempt to revoke Begum’s citizenship was an “unprecedented” reworking of British immigration law.
Mohamed said Javid’s move had opened a can of worms that risked creating a “two-tiered British nationality,” which could mean that “if you were born and bred in the UK, but your parents were born somewhere else and had dual nationality – then your nationality as somebody born and raised in the UK is at risk.”
The citizenship of Begum’s son is still up in the air, with Javid suggesting in Parliament last week that children of jihadists who lose their citizenship could still be British.
Begum’s ISIS-member husband is a Dutch national, and the teenager suggested this might be another route to citizenship.
“Another option I might try with my family is my husband is from Holland and he has family in Holland,” Begum told ITV last week. “Maybe I can ask for citizenship in Holland. If he gets sent back to prison in Holland I can just wait for him while he is in prison.”
Begum was just 15 when she and two other classmates – all from east London’s Bethnal Green Academy – traveled to Syria to join another friend who arrived months earlier.
Her case was catapulted into the national spotlight earlier this month after The Times found her living in a Syrian refugee camp, telling the UK newspaper: “I don’t regret coming here.”
At the time nine months pregnant, Begum said her two other children had died in infancy from malnutrition and illness.
CNN’s Becky Anderson reported from Abu Dhabi, with Sheena McKenzie writing in London. CNN’s Tara John also contributed to this report.