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Woman challenging UK government’s decision to strip her of citizenship for joining ISIS

A British-born woman who went to Syria as a schoolgirl to join Islamic State (IS) is challenging the UK government’s decision to take away her citizenship, with her lawyers telling a London court that she was likely “a child victim of trafficking”.

Shamima Begum left London in 2015 aged 15 and travelled with two school friends to Syria, where she married an IS fighter and gave birth to three children, all of whom died as infants.

She was stripped of her British citizenship on national security grounds in 2019, shortly after she was found in a detention camp in Syria.

Begum, now 23, is appealing against that decision at a five-day hearing at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, a specialist tribunal that hears appeals against decisions to remove citizenship on national security grounds.

Samantha Knights, representing Begum, said on Monday that the decision to remove her citizenship made Begum “effectively an exile for life”.

Arguing that the case concerns a child aged 15 who was influenced and affected with her friends by a determined and effective ISIS propaganda machine, Begum’s lawyers plead that she was essentially a victim of child trafficking.

They also argued there is overwhelming evidence that Begum was “recruited, transported, transferred, harboured and received in Syria for the purposes of sexual exploitation”.

But lawyers representing the Home Office said Begum’s case concerns national security rather than trafficking. James Eadie, representing the British government, said in written arguments that Begum had aligned with IS and stayed in Syria for four years until 2019.

Eadie said Begum left IS territory “only as the caliphate collapsed”, adding: “Even at that stage, the evidence demonstrates that she left only for safety and not because of a genuine disengagement from the group.”

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