No issue in recent memory has riled Vox Political readers as much as the case of Shamima Begum – apart from accusations of anti-Semitism, and they were based on inaccurate information or speculation as well.
I must admit I was surprised at the vehemence of the response to yesterday’s article about the teenage defector to IS. I had tweeted a request for opinions, the day before, that received only one response – at a tangent to the main issue.
The diversity of information and opinions on this has been fascinating. It seems a vociferous proportion of you have very solid opinions on the facts of this case – but you can’t agree on what many of those facts are.
We know that Ms Begum was encouraged to leave the UK for IS-held territory with two other schoolgirls, at the age of 15. There, she married a Dutch IS fighter and had two children with him, both of whom died shortly after they were born. She is now pregnant with his third child and is living in a refugee camp outside IS control but in which she is said to be surrounded by IS sympathisers. Those are the facts as we know them.
She has said she still supports IS; that she saw decapitated heads in a basket but the sight did not “faze” her; that she fears her unborn child may not survive if it is born at her current location; and that she wants the UK government to intervene and bring her home, so she and the child can enjoy NHS health care.
Commenters who think she should be brought home have poured doubt on her support of IS, but insisted that the fears she has expressed for her unborn child are genuine, and that she is sincere in her desire to live peacefully in the UK with her child after being brought back. Those are interesting choices, considering they have no evidence to support any of those assertions.
The head of MI6 has already pointed out that Ms Begum may present a threat to people in the UK if she returns and that a “very significant level of resource” would be required to ensure public safety because she is likely to have acquired “certain skills or connections”.
He said: “We are very concerned about this because all experience tells us that once someone has been put in that sort of position, or put themselves in that sort of position, they are likely to have acquired the skills or connections that make them potentially very dangerous.”
It is possible that, if she does manage to have her unborn child in the UK, it would be taken away from her – at least until her intentions are established – for its own safety.
Some of the other issues in this case appear a little more vague:
- In my previous article I implied that she would be a health tourist. Many, many people have written in to assert that she is entitled to free NHS care because she is British.
It seems this is not true. Here‘s the NHS’s own guidance: “If you are moving abroad on a permanent basis, you will no longer automatically be entitled to medical treatment under normal NHS rules. This is because the NHS is a residence-based healthcare system.”
This leaflet (and I dare say others from other NHS trusts) indicates that any UK citizen who has lived abroad for more than three months may be charged for health care, unless they can prove that they have been working (note that word: working) abroad for less than five years and have lived in the UK continuously for at least 10 years at some point. Anyone coming to the UK from a non-EEA country with which the UK does not have a bilateral healthcare agreement will normally be expected to pay for treatment.
- It has been claimed that the unborn child is innocent of any wrong-doing by either of its parents and this is true. But this does not provide it with an automatic right of residence in the UK. The father is Dutch. What are the laws in that country regarding parenthood? Do his family not have a say in the future of their descendant? Who gave commenters on Facebook and Twitter the right to decide that they don’t?
- It has been claimed that, under international law, Ms Begum cannot be prevented from returning to the UK – as she is a UK citizen and her citizenship cannot be revoked because it is an offence to leave anybody stateless. But this raises significant questions, because she deliberately left the UK with the intention of becoming a citizen of “the Caliphate”, as she describes the land controlled by IS. The UK has never recognised IS as a legitimate country, and it is this that allows Ms Begum to return, if she can. But (again), her comments lead one to conclude that she does not want to be a citizen of the UK, but is simply – cynically – playing on this point of law to get free medical care for herself and her child. Is the UK now the kind of country that forces individuals to be British citizens, whether they want to or not? It isn’t so very long since we condemned the former Soviet Union for such behaviour.
- It has been suggested that she cannot express remorse because she is in an IS refugee camp (she isn’t); and because she is in a Syrian refugee camp but surrounded by members of IS who could beat her and endanger the child. There is no evidence to suggest this is true.
- It has been suggested that she was groomed by IS – the evidence suggests she wasn’t. She was radicalised. Grooming is a practice carried out by paedophiles for predatory sexual purposes and the evidence is that she was persuaded to join IS because she was led to believe in its culture and purpose. Once there, the evidence suggests that she applied to marry an English-speaking IS fighter aged between 20 and 25, and did so within a matter of weeks. It has been asserted that this shows sexual impropriety as she was still a minor – but this is according to UK laws and she was now living according to the rules of IS. What is the age of consent there? I don’t know but the evidence – again – suggests that it is lower than in the UK. I’m not supporting that; it is what it is.
- It has been suggested that those who don’t think she should return – 76 per cent of us according to Sky News – support child grooming, want the unborn child to die, and are racists who would not respond the same way if Ms Begum was white. These are simple personal insults, nothing more. The claim about racism is completely wild. And there is no reason to believe we know that the unborn child will die, now that her circumstances have changed and she is not under IS rule now.
The best information we have shows that Ms Begum left the UK of her own free will and everything she has done since then was intentional and unforced, so it is possible that she will face prosecution and imprisonment if she is allowed back. She is not entitled to free healthcare from the UK’s NHS and her eligibility to return cannot be supported on that basis. If she has the baby in the UK, it may be taken away from her, for its own safety. And the wishes of the father (if he is still alive and can be traced) and his family must also be researched; the child will be a descendant of theirs as well.
Perhaps those who rushed to criticise This Writer had not taken all the elements of this case into account.
It is also possible that I was hasty in saying that Ms Begum should be prevented from returning to the UK. But she should certainly be briefed on what to expect. Her response could provide a very clear indication of who is right in this case.
Will she still want to come back, knowing what might happen if she does?
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