In brief: Isis bride Shamima Begum’s journey to Syria - and possibly back

Court rules that former Londoner may return to UK to fight decision to revoke her British citizenship

Shamima Begum
(Image credit: Twitter)

Isis bride Shamima Begum should be allowed to come back to the UK to challenge the removal of her British citizenship, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Begum, 20, was stripped of her citizenship by the Home Office in 2019 on security grounds and left stranded in a Syrian refugee camp.

But the London court this week ruled that “the only way in which she can have a fair and effective appeal is to be permitted to come into the United Kingdom to pursue her appeal”, The Guardian reports. The Home Office has announced plans to “apply for permission to appeal” against the “very disappointing” decision.

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Begum’s journey

Begum left Bethnal Green in east London with two teenage friends to join Isis in 2015, when the jihadist group was at the height of its power and held vast swathes of territory across Syria and Iraq. The three schoolgirls travelled via Turkey to the caliphate’s headquarters in Raqqa, where Begum married a Dutch convert recruit.

One of the other girls who travelled with her, Kadiza Sultana, was later killed in a bombing attack, according to Sky News. What happened to the third - Amira Abase - is unknown.

Four years after arriving in Syria, and following the territorial defeat of Isis, Begum was found in a Syrian refugee camp in northeastern Syria. She was nine months’ pregnant.

Sajid Javid, the home secretary at the time, stripped Begum of her British citizenship weeks later, despite pleas to let her return for the sake of her newborn son, Jarrah. Javid argued that she had the right to become a citizen of Bangladesh, the birth country of her parents.

However, “the authorities in Bangladesh have said that Ms Begum never claimed citizenship of that nation and that she would not be allowed in Bangladesh”, The New York Times reports.

Shortly after her British citizenship was revoked, Begum’s son died. “She has said she had two other children while living under Isis, but that they too died,” according to The Guardian.

What happens next?

Begum’s case has become “a prominent example of the challenges many Western governments face with citizens who joined the group, and who some argue would pose a national security threat if repatriated”, says The New York Times.

Following this week’s ruling by the Court of Appeal, she now has the right to return to the UK, although as The Guardian notes, it is “not clear how easy it would be in practice for Begum to return from Syria”.

The court acknowledged that she “could be arrested and charged” upon her arrival in the UK, and Whitehall sources told the newspaper that anybody helping her return could also be at risk of a criminal offence.

Meanwhile, Javid tweeted that he is “deeply concerned” about the ruling. “If Ms Begum does come back to this country, it will prove impossible to remove her,” he added in a statement.

But Begum’s lawyer, Daniel Furner, said that she should be allowed to return to “give her side of the story”.

“Ms Begum is not afraid of facing British justice, she welcomes it,” Furner added. “But the stripping of her citizenship without a chance to clear her name is not justice, it is the opposite.”

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Joe Evans is the world news editor at He joined the team in 2019 and held roles including deputy news editor and acting news editor before moving into his current position in early 2021. He is a regular panellist on The Week Unwrapped podcast, discussing politics and foreign affairs. 

Before joining The Week, he worked as a freelance journalist covering the UK and Ireland for German newspapers and magazines. A series of features on Brexit and the Irish border got him nominated for the Hostwriter Prize in 2019. Prior to settling down in London, he lived and worked in Cambodia, where he ran communications for a non-governmental organisation and worked as a journalist covering Southeast Asia. He has a master’s degree in journalism from City, University of London, and before that studied English Literature at the University of Manchester.