11:03, February 21 114 0 theguardian.com

2019-02-21 11:03:05
Shamima Begum's family hope to bring her baby to UK

The family of Shamima Begum are exploring legal and practical options to bring her baby son to the UK without her while she embarks on the potentially lengthy appeal against the removal of her British citizenship, the Guardian has learned.

The lawyer representing the 19-year-old’s family is planning to travel to the refugee camp in Syria where she is living “as soon as possible” to set in motion the legal appeal process, and to ask her consent to bring her newborn son back to Britain while she awaits a resolution of her legally tangled case.

Begum gave birth to a baby boy last weekend in a refugee camp in northern Syria, just days before the Home Office moved to strip her of her British nationality.

Because the baby boy was born while she was still a UK citizen, he is British, according to legal experts. The child’s citizenship is unaffected by the move to deprive her of her rights, the home secretary, Sajid Javid, indicated on Wednesday.

“She has a child and we are going to see what we can do to make sure that the child isn’t suffering, because that child isn’t affected by this order administratively at all,” Tasnime Akunjee, the Begum family’s lawyer, told the Guardian.

“We would really like to know from Sajid Javid what practical steps he would take to assist a four- or five-day-old British citizen in difficult circumstances to come back to the UK.”

The decision to send the baby to Britain pending his mother’s appeal would be one for Begum herself, he stressed, saying: “We can’t do anything against her will, so I would hope that I would be able to outline the options for her, explain things to her. We would want her agreement and consent of course.”

The 19-year-old was one of three British schoolgirls who fled their home in Bethnal Green, east London, four years ago to marry Isis fighters in Syria. In a letter dated 19 February, the Home Office informed the teenager’s family that it had stripped her of her British citizenship, and asked them, if they were in contact with their daughter, to inform her.

Akunjee said neither the family nor he had spoken to Begum since the Home Office decision was made, meaning that she has not yet formally instructed him to launch an appeal against the move. In the first instance, his purpose in attempting to travel to the refugee camp would be to ask Begum to sign the necessary forms to instruct him to act. It is not impossible to be instructed by phone but would potentially delay the process, he indicated.

Her baby son was born a day or two before the Home Office move, but the family do not know the exact date of birth or full name of the boy – whom Begum told reporters she had named Jarrah – which would make the practicalities of bringing the baby back to the UK, even with her consent, particularly complicated.

Ajunkee suggested it was for the government to outline what measures it intended to put in place to safeguard the child.

Responding to an urgent question on the case on Wednesday, Javid told the House of Commons, “In the case of a minor, clearly even more care must be taken, because it is absolutely paramount in all cases that we take into account the welfare of minors.”

Javid’s decision to strip Begum’s citizenship has caused controversy, with many legal observers questioning how it could be legal since removing someone’s citizenship in a way that leaves them stateless is illegal under international law. The teenager, whose family are originally from Bangladesh, insists she has never applied for or held Bangladeshi citizenship and has never visited the country.

Bangladesh’s foreign ministry has also unequivocally stated that she is not a citizen of that country, and said that “there is no question of her being allowed to enter into Bangladesh”.

Akunjee said: “We are interested in the statement released by the Bangladeshi government and that will form part of the mix of our appeal.”

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Jeremy Corbyn described the Home Office move as “a very extreme manoeuvre” and called for the government to offer Begum “some support”.

“She was born in Britain, she has that right to remain in Britain and obviously a lot of questions she has to answer but also some support that she needs,” he said.

“She obviously has, in my view, a right to return to Britain. On that return she must face a lot of questions about everything she’s done. And at that point any action may or may not be taken.”