Shamima Begum, the British born woman who, at the age of 15, left the UK to join the Islamic State, and then asked to return in 2019, has lost the first stage of appeal over her citizenship.
In the midst of fierce public debate then, Former Home Secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of her UK citizenship.The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) has ruled that Begum could be stripped of her nationality because she had not been left stateless. The SIAC is a semi-secret court which hears national security cases.
The main point of law has been if stripping Begum of citizenship would render her stateless, illegal under international law, and one basis of Begum’s case. However, the tribunal rejected this, concluding that that she was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent”, because she has a claim to Bangladeshi nationality through her mother. However the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh already stated in February 2019 that she was not a Bangladeshi citizen and would not be allowed into the country. The commission also ruled that Former Home Secretary Javid did not expose her to human rights abuses by leaving her at the refugee camp.
This has been contested by Begum’s lawyer, Daniel Further, who said that Begum’s “change of survival [was] even more precariously balanced than before”. He also said they would appeal the decision.
The commission’s decision that Begum would claim nationality elsewhere because of her ethnicity or birthplace of her parents, has been a point of indignation for many, who note that this would mean the decision would have been different for a white Briton who has no discernible link to elsewhere:
And it means for British nationals who have foreign-heritage, their British citizenship will always be conditional – and not equal to their white British/indigenous counterparts #shamimabegum
— Dr Zubaida Haque (@Zubhaque) February 7, 2020
Aina Khan notes in the Guardian the implication of this decision on ethnic minorities in the UK, “given that all ethnic minorities have family connections to other countries, it now places a question mark over all of our futures. Should we be convicted of a crime (and let’s face it, our communities are already heavily policed and there’s a long history of us being unfairly targeted by the criminal justice system), we may now face a double punishment – of deportation as well as the original sentencing.”
Khan links this decision to a restricting to the idea of “Britishness” as a whole in the past decade which is “squeezing out ethnic minorities”. She points to the attacks on multi-culturalism, the debate on “British values”, the rise in hate crimes since the Brexit referendum, the Windrush Scandal, and the election of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, despite, or perhaps partly due to, his attacks on Muslim women and other racist comments.
The next point the Commission will consider is whether the government had legitimate national security grounds to bar Ms Begum from coming back to the UK.