After Shamima Begum, who left the UK when she was a teenager to join the Islamic State, was found in a Syrian refugee camp in 2019, then-Home Secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of her British citizenship. He claimed that her return to the UK would create “national security risks”. Begum appealed this decision and the Court of Appeals ruled in her favour, allowing her to return to fight her citizenship case. However, the Home Office appealed this judgement to the Supreme Court, whose ruling came in last week.
On the 26th of February, the Supreme Court shockingly ruled that Begum cannot return to the UK to appeal the revocation of her British citizenship.
Many are certainly celebrating this decision. In a Sky Data poll from 2019, 8 in 10 Britons approved of the decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship. Certain newspaper headlines praised the ruling, with The Sun commending the “banishment” of the 21-year old. Yet people celebrating this decision are neglecting to acknowledge the shocking blow that the Supreme Court just delivered to the concepts of justice and fairness.
The Supreme Court decision seemingly allows individuals to be left stateless. Under the British Nationality Act of 1981, home secretaries are allowed to strip individuals of their citizenship if this is “conducive to the public good”. However, this is only permitted if the individual is eligible for citizenship in another country, as international law does not allow one to be deprived of their citizenship if this will in turn render them stateless. The Home Office has argued that their action was legal as, under Bangladeshi law, Begum who was born to a Bangladeshi parent automatically becomes a Bangladeshi citizen. However, the Bangladeshi government disputed this, stating that Begum had never applied for dual nationality and is thus not a Bangladeshi citizen and would not be allowed to enter the country.
With both the UK and Bangladesh barring Begum from entering, the 21-year old is now de-facto stateless. She is forced to remain in a camp controlled by Syrian Kurds, where thousands live in inhumane conditions. Syria, a country struggling to cope with the aftermath of the Islamic State and overpopulated resettlement camps, should not be left to take care of Begum, who is a British national and is not the responsibility of the Syrian government.
Begum has spent her whole life in the UK. She was born in London, attended school in Bethnal Green and was radicalised in this country, whereas she has never even visited Bangladesh. There is no disputing the seriousness of her crimes, but she is still the responsibility of the UK, not the country that has played little to no part in her life and upbringing. It is clearly an abuse of power by the British government to try to offload their responsibility for Begum onto a country that she few ties with.
In addition, the Supreme Court decision prevents Begum from having a fair trial. She is not able to properly communicate with her legal team from her Syrian refugee camp and will not be able to participate in her hearing. The President of the Supreme Court, Lord Reed, has been quoted saying that the right to a fair hearing does “not trump all other considerations, such as the safety of the public”, implying that allowing Begum to return to the UK would put the British people at risk. However, many legal experts have rightly pointed out that security services have managed to safely return hundreds of people who had joined ISIS to stand trial in the UK. It thus seems arbitrary to draw the line at Begum, a young girl who fled to Syria when she was only 15 after possibly being groomed online.
It is understandable that many people find it difficult to find compassion for a woman who does not regret joining a terrorist group and claims that she is “unfazed” by the sight of beheadings. The crimes that she has been accused of are undoubtedly horrific. However, this should not mean that her human right to a fair trial should be denied. The Supreme Court’s ruling does not serve justice, but instead undermines the rule of law and sets a dangerous precedent.
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