Today, 3rd April EVAW sent a letter to Sajid Javid, Home Secretary calling for an immediate change in policy in response to Shamima Begum.
Dear Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP,
We write to raise our concerns with you regarding the ongoing situation of Shamima Begum, the 19-year-old woman from East London who has been subject to a great deal of media interest and political comment after being recently located in a Syrian refugee camp.
You will be aware of the details of this case, namely that Shamima is a British national, and was only 15 when she left the UK in February 2015. As a teenager, Shamima is understood to have been ‘groomed’ and manipulated into believing that travelling overseas without her parents, with the intention of living in a conflict zone, was a viable and meaningful undertaking. She is believed to have followed a 15-year-old friend who had left the UK only months earlier after immersing herself in a particular version of Islam following the death of her mother.
Clearly, a British born and raised girl of 15 who has lived in London all her life and who comes to believe that such a journey and a life is a worthy undertaking has been manipulated by those who want young teens to take life-threatening risks for their own political, ideological and war-making ends. Indeed, she and her companions were described by Commander Richard Walton, of Scotland Yard’s counter terrorism unit as “straight A students” and “normal girls” (Daily Telegraph, February 2015).
It is pertinent that the Metropolitan Police apologised to the families of Shamima and the two other London schoolgirls, after officers failed to alert them to the fact that a school friend of the trio had already left to join the militants. This has to be regarded as a terrible safeguarding failure. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, apologised that his officers had failed to communicate more directly with the families, and he stressed the girls were viewed as victims, not terrorists, and would not face jail: “If they return home there are no terrorism issues here.” (The Independent, March 2015).
Just 10 days after arriving in Syria, 15-year-old Shamima was forced to marry. This constitutes a child marriage, which international law forbids and largely does not recognise. Now, at 19, she has gone through three pregnancies, and all three children have died. Shamima has expressed her wish to come home to London.
In short, Shamima was encouraged to take an enormous risk with her life and her future when she was still a child and still living in the UK. There were serious safeguarding concerns about her before she left the UK, and British police did not take the steps they should have to try to prevent her travelling.
While many people in the UK are appalled by the views Shamima has expressed (‘views’ which have appeared in edited media interviews conducted by older, ‘scoop-seeking’ journalists) we are nonetheless extremely shocked and disturbed at your swift decision to remove Shamima’s citizenship soon after she was ‘discovered’ in the refugee camp. You have thereby effectively rendered her stateless, which is in itself illegal. We strongly object to this. In a further interview with The Times this week (1 April) Shamima and The Times’s reporter Anthony Loyd reflect on the lack of safety and the policing of views and behaviour in the camp Shamima was first interviewed in. We urge you to reconsider your decision on Shamima’s citizenship, both for her sake and because it has implications for many others. Further, it sets a terrible example to other States of the right response to a case such as this.
We are very concerned that the tone and nature of ‘commentary’ and discussion of Shamima’s case has involved racism and has been very dehumanising. It has been extremely disappointing to see some politicians feed this rhetoric. We have no doubt that this has made it harder for Shamima and her family to deal with the situation, and has contributed to the broader climate of Islamophobia, racism and intolerance in the UK. We also note the special kind of gendered-Islamophobia that is reserved for Muslim women such as Shamima, and we urge all those in government and other positions of power to robustly renounce this.
Shamima is a British-born teenager who has survived a considerable ordeal. She still has most of her adult life ahead of her. Shamima may have committed offences that can be charged and prosecuted in the UK and in this case the proper process would be to permit her return as a British citizen and investigate this appropriately.
We remain available to discuss and explain our concerns in more detail and we look forward to reading your reply.
Sarah Green & Rachel Krys
Co-Directors, End Violence Against Women Coalition