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Why Shamima Begum Must Be Allowed To Return To Britain

A landmark Court of Appeal decision that provides that Shamima Begum can return to the UK to challenge the removal of her citizenship has bitterly divided the British population. Former Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, stated on Twitter:

“Any restrictions of rights and freedoms faced by Ms. Begum are a direct consequence of the actions she has taken, in violation of both government guidance and common morality.”

“It is not clear to me why an appeal could not be made abroad using modern technology.

“However, this is not solely a matter of justice. It is also a matter of national security.”

He also said that allowing Ms. Begum into the country would serve “as a lightning rod for both Islamist and far-right extremists” and it would prove impossible to remove her from the UK.

Having fled to Syria via Turkey at the age of 15 years with two school friends, Ms. Begum married an ISIS fighter.

Ms. Begum’s British citizenship was removed in February 2019. She had been found a week before in a Syrian refugee camp by a journalist. She was heavily pregnant and would give birth to her baby in the camp. This baby would die a few weeks later, a fate that had befallen her other two children.

International law forbids making a person stateless by revoking their only citizenship. Under the British Nationality Act 1981, a person can be deprived of their citizenship if the Home Secretary is satisfied it would be "conducive to the public good" and they would not become stateless as a result. The British Home Secretary at the time, Mr. Javid, was able to take such an action against Ms. Begum because she may have been able to acquire Bangladeshi citizenship; something the Bangladeshi government quickly denied:

“Bangladesh will not accept British citizen and ISIS member Shamima Begum. She has no relation with Bangladesh.”

What does the Court of Appeal’s Decision Actually Mean for Shamima Begum?

The Court of Appeal decision has been praised as a win for Ms. Begum as well as for human rights. However, it is a complex situation, and this decision is far from an outright success. The ruling is an appeal against a June 2019 decision which refused Ms. Begum entry into the UK to make a separate appeal in the Special Immigration Appeal Commission, SIAC.

The Court of Appeal stated that the SIAC should conduct a full review of the facts of a case, as opposed to merely relying on case precedent. The superior court then went on to say that Ms. Begum should be permitted to enter the UK and arrested and tried if this is considered necessary on national security grounds. Otherwise, if the 19-year-old is left in a Syrian refugee camp, she would find it impossible to talk to her Immigration Solicitors and therefore be unable to obtain a fair appeal.

However, the Court of Appeal did not criticise the British government for removing the teenager's British citizenship for national security purposes. But the judges did express concern that such a young girl, who was likely the victim of grooming, has been effectively made stateless. They ruled that the SIAC was the best place to assess the consequences of Ms. Begum being stripped of her citizenship.

Lord Justice Flaux said:

“Notwithstanding the national security concerns about Ms. Begum, I have reached the firm conclusion that given that the only way in which she can have a fair and effective appeal is to be permitted to come into the United Kingdom to pursue her appeal … the LTE [leave to enter] appeals should be allowed.

“Fairness and justice must, on the facts of this case, outweigh the national security concerns.”

The Consequences of being Made Stateless

According to the United Nations Human Rights Organisation, stateless is characterised as:

The international legal definition of a stateless person is “a person who is not considered as a national by any State under the operation of its law”. In simple terms, this means that a stateless person does not have the nationality of any country. Some people are born stateless, but others become stateless.
Stateless people are found in all regions of the world. The majority of stateless people were born in the countries in which they have lived their entire lives.

Statelessness often has a severe and lifelong impact on those it affects. The millions of people around the world who are denied a nationality often fight for the same basic human rights that most of us take for granted. Often they are excluded from cradle to grave— being denied a legal identity when they are born, access to education, health care, marriage and job opportunities during their lifetime, and even the dignity of an official burial and a death certificate when they die. Many pass on statelessness to their children, who then pass it on to the next generation.

Suffering the death of two children and being separated from her family is already the price Ms. Begum has paid for her stateless status. And we must remember that, when she left the UK for Syria, she was a girl of 15 years. Her lawyer has stated that she was ‘groomed’ by the Islamic State.

Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the British government had a duty to protect Ms. Begum until the age of 18 years. As Tracy Kirk, Lecturer at Glasow Caledonian, put it:

“As soon as Shamima left the country – aged 15 – her rights seem to have disappeared.”

Final Words

There is a good reason why making a person stateless is prohibited in international law – it effectively denies a person their humanity. The British government, in stripping Ms. Begum of her citizenship, not only attempted to pass on its problems to another country (in this case, Bangladesh) but they also made an innocent child (her baby) stateless as well. Ms. Begum must be allowed back to the UK to not only face the consequences of her actions, but also get the support she needs. She has already suffered more than most of us could ever imagine.

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