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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 21 March 2019

Shamima Begum baby death a 'stain on the conscience' of UK government

Home Secretary criticised for withdrawing teenager's citizenship

Home secretary Sajid Javid defended the government's decision to revoke Shamima Begum's citizenship, saying his priority was the safety and security of Britain and the people who lived there. Reuters 
Home secretary Sajid Javid defended the government's decision to revoke Shamima Begum's citizenship, saying his priority was the safety and security of Britain and the people who lived there. Reuters 

A decision by Britain to strip a teenage girl of her citizenship after she joined ISIS in Syria was described as a "stain on the conscience" of the government on Saturday after her three-week old baby died.

Shamima Begum was stripped of her citizenship on security grounds last month, leaving her in a detention camp in Syria where her baby died, the third of the 19-year-old's infant children to die since she travelled to Syria in 2015.

The opposition Labour party said the move to leave an innocent child in a refugee camp, where infant mortality rates are high, was morally reprehensible. A lawmaker in the ruling Conservative party said it smacked of populism over principle.

"The tragic death of Shamima Begum's baby, Jarrah, is a stain on the conscience of this government," Diane Abbott, the opposition home affairs spokeswoman said.

"The Home Secretary [Sajid Javid] failed this British child and he has a lot to answer for."

Found in a refugee camp in February, an unrepentant Begum sparked a debate in Britain and other European capitals as to whether a teenager with a ISIS fighter's child should be left in a war zone to fend for herself.

More broadly it has shown the predicament that governments face when weighing the ethical, legal and security ramifications of allowing militants and their families to return.

Begum left London aged 15 with two other schoolgirls to join Islamic State. She married Yago Riedijk, a Dutch IS fighter who is being held in a Kurdish detention centre in northeastern Syria.

After giving interviews to the media in which she said she did not regret travelling to Syria and had not been fazed by the sight of severed heads, she asked to be able to return to London to bring up her baby.

However, Mr Javid withdrew Begum's citizenship, saying his priority was the safety and security of Britain and the people who lived there.

On Friday, Switzerland said it will not help bring home adult citizens who joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq, insisting national security was paramount.

The government will not block the return of the around 20 such Swiss men, women and children in the conflict zone, but will take no active measures to repatriate the adults, the cabinet said in a statement. Only children might get help to return.

"For the government, the ultimate goal is clear: Switzerland's security and the protection of its population are top priorities," it said. They would also try to prevent the extremists from slipping back into Switzerland.

Neighbouring Austria said on Wednesday it would not help repatriate any citizens who fought for ISIS and other militant groups, as countries across the West wrestle with how to deal with returning militants.

Hundreds of people are believed to have left Europe to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq. With the militant group down to its last shred of territory, some have asked to come home.

Switzerland's justice minister had said last month she would prefer to have citizens who fought for ISIS tried on the spot rather than be brought home to face criminal charges, a stance the government has now reaffirmed

Updated: March 10, 2019 10:12 AM

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