Shamima Begum: The Case for Citizenship

Around this time, four years ago, a 15-year-old Shamima Begum flew via Turkish Airlines from Gatwick Airport to Istanbul, Turkey. From there, she crossed the border to Syria where she married an ISIS fighter, had three kids (the first two have since passed away) and sparked a national debate with her seemingly emotionless request to return to the United Kingdom.

Controversially, she has now been stripped of her British Citizenship, however, she is likely to appeal this decision on the basis that she has now been rendered stateless, following Bangladesh’s declaration that they are ‘deeply concerned that [Shamima] has been erroneously identified as a holder of dual citizenship.’ The Bangladeshi government also went on to expressly state that Shamima would not be welcomed into Bangladesh – as a citizen or otherwise.

It has, at this point, become increasingly clear that she should be permitted back in the country. As someone who was brought up in the United Kingdom, Shamima is undoubtedly ‘Britain’s problem’. She was born and raised in the UK, radicalised whilst she was still in the British educational system and was allowed to catch an international flight – unquestioned by British border control – at the age of 15. Given the number of opportunities that Britain had to intervene and prevent her from finding herself in the situation she is in today, it is unfathomable that the country now seeks to wash its hands of her.

This attempt by Savid Javid to abandon her in Syria, a country that is presently still fighting and recovering from a civil war and one which cannot provide adequate care over its own citizens, is unsettling. The same Britain that took charge of the Madeline McCann investigation when she went missing in Portugal over ten years ago, should take charge in investigating, prosecuting and rehabilitating Shamima. We must take responsibility for the actions of our citizens, regardless of the crime.

There is also the matter of her new born child. Abandoning Shamima, is tantamount to abandoning her new born child – an indisputably innocent and vulnerable British citizen. By obstructing Shamima’s entry, the UK is, by extension, preventing a British citizen from returning to the United Kingdom. This is, of course, unless the United Kingdom is willing to separate a new born baby from its mother. This calls into questions if her child goes onto suffer from ill health due to lack of proper healthcare, will the UK take responsibility for it?

Another issue that the Shamima Begum debacle has brought to light that British Citizenship is revocable for actual or potential dual nationals and non-white British citizens, even if the latter do not have dual citizenship- as is the case for Shamima and the Windrush generation. The Immigration Act 2014 gave the Home Secretary the power to revoke British citizenship from anyone who is or may be able to become a citizen of a foreign country. This means that if you, your partner, parents or grandparents are dual citizens or were born outside of the United Kingdom, you may be eligible to have your British citizenship revoked. This is the case irrespective of whether the person in question has even visited the third country, or whether they have any relatives living there.

It is also interesting to note that the Home Office have not made any comment indicating that they may seek to revoke Jack Letts, popularly referred to as ‘Jihadi Jack’s’, citizenship. This is despite the fact that the government would be able to do it in accordance with National and International law, as Jack is also a citizen of Canada.

While it is clear that Shamima is likely to be found to have committed a crime by going to support ISIS, revoking her citizenship is not a precedent that the UK should want to set or follow going forward.

Timi Awoniyi
Timi is a graduate of Law from the University of Essex and is an aspiring Solicitor. He has an interest in UK, European and US Politics and hopes to use the TCS Network to show the importance and effects of politics on the lives of the average Joe.

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