The Home Office failed to spot Isis’ wife Shamima Begum was a ‘victim of child trafficking’ when it stripped her of British citizenship, a court has heard.
Lawyers for Shamima Begum, who was 15 when she left London for Syria, say there is ‘overwhelming evidence’ that she was groomed by recruiters and shipped off for ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘marriage’ with an adult male.
They are seeking to overturn the government’s decision, saying it wrongly assumed she acted “voluntarily”.
Ms Begum traveled in 2015 with two classmates to the territory of Isis, where she married a 23-year-old Dutch jihadist within days and gave birth to three children who died young.
Her citizenship was revoked on national security grounds shortly after she was found, nine months pregnant, in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.
But the government failed in its legal obligation to investigate or even ‘consider’ whether Ms Begum had been trafficked, Samantha Knights KC argued at the start of a five-day hearing.
Then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid was ‘too hasty’ in turning Ms Begum, now 23, into ‘exile for life’, she said.
Ms Knights told the court: ‘This case concerns a 15-year-old British child who was persuaded, influenced and affected along with her friends by a determined and effective Isis propaganda machine.
“She followed a well-known pattern that Isis cynically recruited and groomed girls, as young as 14, so they could be offered as ‘wives’ to grown men.”
The Home Office should also have looked into whether there had been “failures by public authorities in the UK to prevent her from being trafficked”, Ms Knights added.
She continued: ‘The available evidence shows that instead of regarding the appellant as a victim, a child manipulated and exploited, the Home Secretary assumed that she had acted ‘voluntarily’ in going to Syria and aligning with Isis.’
Ms Begum’s team are also seeking to challenge the decision on the grounds that it rendered her “de facto stateless” and that there was never any real possibility of the Home Office backing down.
The Home Office argues that Ms Begum was and still is a ‘national security risk’ based on security service assessments.
Seeking to have the appeal quashed, Sir James Eadie KC said: ‘This is a matter of national security. This is not a trafficking case.
He said Ms Begum “travelled, aligned and stayed in Syria for four years”, leaving ISIS territory only out of fear for her safety and that of her children “and not because of ‘a real disengagement from the group’.
Mr Eadie told the court: ‘When she appeared and gave several press interviews shortly before the Secretary of State decided to strip her of her citizenship, she expressed no remorse and stated that she had no regrets about joining Isis, acknowledging that she was aware of the nature of the group when she was traveling.
Mr Javid was aware of his age and the “circumstances of his trip” and “properly considered” them when assessing his national security risk, the lawyer added.
The hearing is due to end on Friday before a decision at a later date.
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