A schoolgirl who left Britain to join the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and had her British citizenship revoked was a victim of human trafficking, a court heard on Friday.
Shamima Begum was 15 when she travelled from London to Syria with two fellow pupils in February 2015.
Britain’s interior ministry revoked her citizenship on national security grounds after she was discovered heavily pregnant in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019, amid an outcry led by right-wing newspapers.
The Court of Appeal ruled last July that Begum could return to Britain to challenge the decision.
But the Supreme Court in February overturned the lower court ruling, and prevented her from doing so on national security grounds.
Begum, now 21, is challenging the interior ministry’s decision at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) that deals with deportations on national security grounds and the revocation of citizenship.
Her lawyer, Samantha Knights, claimed Begum was “a child trafficked to and remaining in Syria for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced marriage”.
She also argued that revoking Begum’s citizenship left her stateless and the decision was procedurally unfair.
The court was told Begum was living in a “dire” and “fundamentally unsafe environment in which violence is endemic” in the al-Roj refugee camp in northern Syria.
Knights added there was a “serious and present danger” to Begum after the media located her whereabouts and due to her engagement with Western legal processes.
The lawyer argued against delaying her appeal until the conclusion of a separate case in March 2022.
Lawyer David Blundell, representing Britain’s interior ministry, said Begum should not be allowed to change the grounds of her appeal.
“The absence of a claim that she has been trafficked means this ground proceeds on an uncertain factual basis. It is entirely speculative,” he said.
Begum is of Bangladeshi heritage but the country’s foreign minister has said he will not consider granting her citizenship.
An estimated 900 Britons travelled to Syria and Iraq to join IS. The government has prosecuted returnees and revoked more than 150 people’s citizenship, with unconfirmed numbers stuck in Syria.
Rights group Reprieve in April said the government was “systematically failing” vulnerable young women who were trafficked to Syria for sexual and other forms of exploitation.
SIAC judge Robert Jay said he would give a ruling by the end of June.