Shamima Begum should be allowed to return to UK – terrorism adviser | Shamima Begum

A top government terrorism adviser is expected to say Shamima Begum should be allowed to return to the UK, as expert voices grow to oppose her exclusion from Britain.

Jonathan Hall KC, the independent reviewer of the terrorism legislation, will say in a speech on Monday that Begum, who fled his east London home aged 15 to join the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, may still represent a risk, although it is supervised and that “repatriation, if any, should not be confused with moral absolution”.

The government’s decision to revoke Begum’s British citizenship – upheld last week by a special court – was condemned by a former High Court judge. Jonathan Sumption, in a letter to the Guardian, described the government’s action as a “scandal”, which he said actually left her stateless. He wrote: “Children who make a terrible mistake can certainly be redeemed.”

In 2015, Begum left her home in Bethnal Green with two schoolmates after being lured by terrorist propaganda online, traveling through Turkey before joining IS in Syria. She married a terrorist fighter and had three children, all of whom died as babies.

In 2019, the government revoked her British citizenship on the grounds that she would not be stateless due to her Bangladeshi heritage. Begum is in a camp in Syria and says she regrets her decision and wants to return to the UK, even if she is prosecuted.

Hall, in his speech in London, will say that other Western countries are taking back ex-IS recruits, which means Britain is out of step with them. Begum was one of around 900 Britons who traveled to join IS, half of whom have since returned. Hall will say that a policy of keeping them at a “strategic distance” is becoming increasingly unsustainable.

He will say that if Begum is a terrorist danger, then her being supervised still poses a risk, and will add that her gender could be a factor to consider. “The experience from the UK is that women are far less likely to carry out attacks or any other type of terrorist crime – in the 20 years to September 2022, there were 1,004 men against 89 women convicted of terrorism.

“Compared to men, women are less likely to have traveled to fight; are less likely to have played (a) role on the battlefield; he may well have had less autonomy to be able to leave; and now constitute the majority of UK-related detainees”.

Hall will add: “The status quo does not eliminate risk… Colluding in detention may be easier than colluding at home.”

He will say that the children of those who have traveled to join IS need to be removed from that environment, adding: “Managed return, with adequate preparation, reception committees, police with risk management plans in place, local authorities prepared to carry out safeguards, wider family members engaged, is better than a chaotic return.”

Hall will say that the likes of Begum’s return would also offer something for those outraged by his actions: “Prosecution can also fulfill the purpose of accountability. It’s only human to want to see these individuals punished for their choices. That desire for just desserts can be partially assuaged by the knowledge that the arrest will have been tough, but all of that is extralegal, not a basis for policy. The noble and rational purpose of accountability is different and requires renewed attention.

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The government’s decision would have followed the advice of the security services about the danger that Begum poses.

In his letter to the Guardian, Lord Sumption said: “The Home Secretary cannot deprive a person of British citizenship if it would render him stateless…

“When the decision was made in 2019, Ms. Begum… was a citizen of Bangladesh, but only in the most technical sense. She had provisional citizenship until age 21, when it would lapse unless she adopted it… But she has never been to Bangladesh. She has no ties to the country. And Bangladesh disowned it.

“Her Bangladeshi citizenship has always been a legal fiction. Today is not even that. She is 23 years old. As a result of the interior minister’s decision, she is trapped in a camp in Syria, with no citizenship anywhere and no prospect of having it. Children who make a terrible mistake are certainly redeemable. But statelessness is forever.”

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