There is 'overwhelming evidence' Shamima Begum was a victim of trafficking, her lawyers have claimed.
Begum was 15 when she left London with friends and travelled to Syria to join ISIS, back in 2015. She was subsequently stripped of her British citizenship following the collapse of ISIS, having been found living in a Syrian refugee camp in February 2019.
Begum - now 21 - is challenging the Home Office's decision to remove her citizenship, and her lawyers told the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) at a hearing today (Friday 18 June) that the Home Office is legally obligated to investigate whether Begum was a victim of trafficking.
Samantha Knights QC said 'the counter-terrorism unit had suspicions of coercion and control' at the time Begum left the UK, which she argued 'gives rise to the need to investigate the issue of trafficking'.
In written submissions, Begum's legal team said the Home Office failed to consider whether she was 'a child trafficked to, and remaining in, Syria for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced marriage'.
Begum also wants to challenge the removal of her British citizenship on the grounds that it made her 'de facto stateless' and that the decision was procedurally unfair.
Knights told the court that Begum is currently held in the al-Roj camp in northern Syria, which is run by the Syrian Democrat Forces (SDF), where conditions are 'dire'.
She has lost three young children since leaving the UK.
Knights said: "Ms Begum... is in a fundamentally unsafe environment in a camp run by the SDF.
"Physical violence is common and psychological trauma is endemic."
She added that Begum was 'living in a situation of serious and present danger' and asked SIAC to consider her proposed new grounds of appeal in November.
David Blundell QC, representing the Home Office, said: "Ms Begum should not be permitted to amend her grounds again."
He argued in written submissions: "It is significant that the allegation is not that Ms Begum was trafficked, but rather that she 'may have been' trafficked.
"Ms Begum herself has never stated that she has been trafficked, despite having given numerous media interviews and provided instructions to her solicitors on a number of matters.
"The absence of a claim that she has in fact been trafficked means this ground proceeds on an uncertain factual basis. It is entirely speculative."
Mr Blundell added: "Although Ms Begum focuses on the fact that she left at 15, she ignores the fact that she remained in Isil (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) territory in Syria for a considerable period of time as an adult, only leaving when the so-called caliphate fell.
"It was at that stage, not when she was a child, that the deprivation decision was taken."
Begum asked the UK for a 'second chance' in new Sky documentary The Return: Life After ISIS. Read more about that here.
Featured Image Credit: Sky
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