Britain condemned after Daesh teenager’s baby dies
09 Mar 2019
Pro-Brexit protesters demonstrate outside Downing Street in London, Britain, on Saturday. Reuters
The British government drew fresh criticism on Saturday over its decision to revoke citizenship from a London teenager who joined the Daesh group in Syria, after her baby died in a refugee camp.
Shamima Begum, 19, had asked to return home after giving birth to her son Jarrah last month in the camp in northeastern Syria, but London refused.
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.
A spokesman for the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, Mustefa Bali, told reporters that the baby had died, without giving further details.
The BBC said he had pneumonia, citing a medical certificate.
Begum’s fate has sparked heated debate in Britain, which like many other countries is facing a dilemma over whether to allow militants and Daesh sympathisers home to face prosecution, or stop them from returning at all.
She was 15 when she left east London for Syria with two other schoolgirls, and was found by journalists in the refugee camp after fleeing fighting between the terror group and US-backed forces.
Begum told them she wanted to return home to save her baby, saying that her two older children had died, apparently from illness and malnutrition.
“I don’t want to lose this baby as well and this is really not a place to raise children, this camp,” she told the BBC at the time.
Opposition Labour MP Diane Abbott said the death of the baby was “a stain on the conscience of this government.”
She accused Home Secretary Sajid Javid of revoking Begum’s citizenship “to appease the right-wing press”, saying he had “failed this British child, and he has a lot to answer for.”
Polls suggested the move was popular with a majority of Britons but it drew criticism from opposition parties and human rights lawyers, and disquiet among some lawmakers within Prime Minister Theresa May’s party who felt that Britain was exporting its own problems.
Phillip Lee, a former justice minister and member of May’s party, said he had been deeply concerned by the decision.
“Clearly Shamima Begum holds abhorrent views,” he told BBC Radio. “But she was a child. She is a product of our society ... and I think we had a moral responsibility to her and to her baby, Jarrah.
“I was troubled by the decision. It seemed driven by a populism, not by any principle that I recognised.”
Two senior members of the government said on Saturday that the death was a tragedy but that the home secretary took the decision on grounds of national security.
“Any baby dying is an absolute tragedy, and that was a British baby,” the leader of parliament Andrea Leadsom told Reuters.
“But nevertheless the home secretary’s core job is to protect the people of the United Kingdom.
However, the chairman of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative party, Brandon Lewis, told BBC radio: “There is no question that the duty of a home secretary in this country is to keep British people safe.”
Begum, who was married to a Dutch Daesh fighter who is now thought to be held in Syria, initially showed little remorse about Daesh attacks, sparking public outrage in Britain.
But Javid’s decision to revoke her citizenship drew mixed reactions. British law states that the government cannot remove a person’s citizenship if that would make them stateless, unless there are “reasonable grounds” to believe they can become a citizen of another country.
It was reported that Begum could be eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship through her parents, but Dhaka said there was “no question” of her going there.
Javid had hinted that her baby could be treated differently, telling MPs previously: “Children should not suffer, so if a parent does lose their British citizenship it does not affect the rights of their child.”
But he said it would be “incredibly difficult” to bring the child back from Syria, where Britain has no consular presence.
Abbott said: “To leave a vulnerable young woman and an innocent child in a refugee camp, where we know infant mortality to be high, is morally reprehensible.”
Aid group Save the Children said the baby’s death was “incredibly sad” and urged Britain and other countries to “take responsibility” for their citizens in Syria.