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The New Arab Staff

Shamima Begum 'left suicidal' after death of her children

Shamima Begum has had her citizenship revoked [Getty]

Date of publication: 18 March, 2021

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Shamima Begum said losing her children to conditions of war sent her mental health spiralling.

Shamima Begum, who left the UK for Islamic State group-controlled territories in 2015, said losing her children left her suicidal in a documentary that airs on Wednesday.

Begum features in The Return: Life After ISIS, a documentary filmed in 2019 but premiering Wednesday at the online, Texas-based South By Southwest festival.

Spanish director Alba Sotorra was given rare and extensive access to Begum and other Western women at Syria's Kurdish-run Roj camp, where have been resident since the so-called caliphate's collapse in 2019. 

Begum, now 21, left her home in East London as a schoolgirl, saying she felt like an "outsider" in her local community and wanted to "help the Syrians". It was a decision she later regretted.

When discussing the loss of her three children, Begum wept, saying the grief left her suicidal.

Read also: Britain risks creating 'new Guantanamo' in Syria, warns rights group

In another segment of the documentary, Begum denied working for the IS group's so-called morality police, known as the Hisba.

"It makes no sense how ISIS would let a 15-year-old with no Islamic knowledge work for Hisba when I don't speak the language, I don't really have any credentials or anything," she said.

"So I don't know why I'm being accused of this. I think my government just wants to make me look bad and they couldn't find anything, so they just made it up."

Letter of regret

Also in the documentary, Begum read a letter she wrote to her younger self years earlier in which she begs her not to join the militant group.

"I know you think this is the only option you have to hold onto your religion and escape the problems in your life, but you have your entire life ahead of you to complete your religion and mend broken relationships between everyone in the family," the letter read.

"Think about mum and how much it would hurt her to know that her little baby left her and didn't give her a hug and a kiss, knowing that she'll probably never see her again."

"Think about the education you're about to throw away. You worked so hard to get where you are now. Don't just walk away from it all for something I know you're not even certain about."

The director of the documentary described how Begum was completely numb with trauma during the interview.

"Shamima was a piece of ice when I met her," Sotorra told AFP.

"She lost the kid when I was there, it took a while to be able to cry. I think it's just surviving, you need to protect yourself to survive."

Citizenship revoked

In February, the UK's highest court rejected a bid by Begum, who was stripped of her British citizenship after joining the Islamic State group, to return to home and challenge the decision.

Five judges at the Supreme Court gave a unanimous decision in her case, whose legal battles have come to be seen as a test of how the UK treats nationals who joined IS.

They found her right to a fair hearing did not override considerations such as public safety, and that the decision to block her return should remain until she can participate "without the safety of the public being compromised". 

"That is not a perfect solution, as it is not known how long it may be before that is possible," the head of the Supreme Court, judge Robert Reed, said in a written judgment.

"But there is no perfect solution to a dilemma of the present kind."

Days ago, Begum was photographed without her hijab and wearing a t-shirt with brightly coloured hair.

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