Shamima Begum losing her appeal proves the UK has conditional citizenship

Shamima Begum
Support us and go ad-free

Shamima Begum has lost her latest legal battle to reverse the decision that stripped her of her British citizenship. The ruling from Judge Robert Jay of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) means that she can’t return to the UK from her current home in a refugee camp in northern Syria.

Shamima was 15 when Islamic State (IS) groomed her to leave her East London home for Syria. This was in 2015. While she was there, the group forced her to marry an IS fighter. She had three children, who have all since died. In February 2019, her legal team said the UK government left her stateless. This was after the then-home secretary Sajid Javid revoked her British citizenship. He claimed this was on ‘national security grounds’ after she was found in the Syrian camp.

A UK tribunal ruled in 2020 that she was not stateless. It claimed this was because she was “a citizen of Bangladesh by descent” at the time the decision was made. This was due to her mother being Bangladeshi. Javid revoked Shamima’s citizenship despite the fact she had never been to Bangladesh. Under the Bangladeshi “blood line” law, nationality and citizenship lapse when a person reaches the age of 21. This is triggered unless they make efforts to retain it. Shamima has not done this, and was aged 19 when the decision was made.

Shamima Begum’s ‘shades of grey’

When rejecting her appeal, Jay said:

under our constitutional settlement these sensitive issues are for the secretary of state to evaluate and not for the commission.

However, he said there was “considerable force” in Begum’s arguments. Jay also noted that Javid’s conclusion that she had travelled voluntarily to Syria “is as stark as it is unsympathetic”.

Jay continued:

Read on...

Support us and go ad-free

Further, there is some merit in the argument that those advising the secretary of state see this as a black and white issue, when many would say that there are shades of grey.

This presumably refers to Shamima’s account that IS groomed, raped, and abused her. Given that she was 15 when the group trafficked her, she clearly could not consent to any sexual contact. It is evidently the UK government’s position that Shamima was – and remains – a security threat who joined IS and cannot be allowed into the UK. Instead it appears that the “shades of grey” Jay refers to are a sickening euphemism for the abuse and trafficking of a young girl.

Indeed, lawyer Samantha Knights, representing Shamima, told the SIAC hearing last November that her client had been “influenced” along with her friends by a “determined and effective” IS group “propaganda machine”. She said in written evidence there was “overwhelming” evidence Shamima had been:

recruited, transported, transferred, harboured and received in Syria for the purposes of ‘sexual exploitation’ and ‘marriage’ to an adult male.

Gareth Peirce and Daniel Furner, lawyers representing Shamima, said the ruling meant:

there is now no protection for a British child trafficked out of the UK.

They confirmed that “every possible avenue to challenge this decision will be urgently pursued”. Shamima can now appeal the decision by the SIAC in the Court of Appeal.

Reactions to the stripping of citizenship

Amnesty International UK’s refugee and migrant rights director Steve Valdez-Symonds said:

The power to banish a citizen like this simply shouldn’t exist in the modern world.

Shamima Begum had lived all her life in the UK right up to the point she was lured to Syria as an impressionable 15-year-old.

Activist and writer Ilyas Nagdee said:

Co-editor of Red Pepper Magazine Amardeep Dhillon said:

Academic Gurminder Bhambra pointed out the cost to all of us:

Grassroots organisers CAGE questioned the government’s claims about security threats:

Dr Zubaida Haque explained that the decision is likely to have severe implications for British citizens with lineage from other countries:

MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy also emphasised the two-tier citizenship system:

Conditional citizenship

Shamima has been here many times. Each time her legal battles are covered by the mainstream media, racists come crawling out of the woodwork. They deny she was ever trafficked or abused. They use her as an example of the threat of ‘Islamist extremism.’ It’s not at all surprising that the government are doggedly opposing her attempts to avoid statelessness. These are the same people who’ve enacted the Nationality and Borders Act which enshrines the ability to strip people of their citizenship into law.

Shamima’s treatment at the hands of a hostile government and a craven media says absolutely everything about what kind of country the UK is. This is a place where a child who was trafficked, raped, and abused, whose three children all died, can be left stateless and shoved towards a country she has never known, simply because of where her parents come from. This is what it’s like to not be white in Britain. It doesn’t matter who you are, who you know, how integrated you become, or anything like that. If you’re a person of colour, and Muslim on top of that, your citizenship can and will be stripped away from you.

Two years ago, when the Canary last covered Shamima’s citizenship battle, we concluded:

Conditional citizenship for some is conditional citizenship for all.

Being considered a person with full rights is for some, but not all. This rotting society is only as good as its most vulnerable people. What does that make the UK? A country that has unending sympathy and generosity of spirit for whiteness in all its guises, and a vicious disdain for brown people. To be brown and Muslim in the UK is to feel, on many levels, how much your life and death mean absolutely nothing.

Featured image via YouTube screenshot/BBC News

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

Support us and go ad-free

We know everyone is suffering under the Tories - but the Canary is a vital weapon in our fight back, and we need your support

The Canary Workers’ Co-op knows life is hard. The Tories are waging a class war against us we’re all having to fight. But like trade unions and community organising, truly independent working-class media is a vital weapon in our armoury.

The Canary doesn’t have the budget of the corporate media. In fact, our income is over 1,000 times less than the Guardian’s. What we do have is a radical agenda that disrupts power and amplifies marginalised communities. But we can only do this with our readers’ support.

So please, help us continue to spread messages of resistance and hope. Even the smallest donation would mean the world to us.

Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. Appalling decision, especially as America ‘created’ Isis/al Qaeda by allowing Qatar/KSA to fund/arm them and the security services were relaxed about people going to fight there.
      I can’t help seeing similarities with Ukraine, where thousands of Brits are currently fighting with the Nazis. They’ll all be allowed back but I worry that they will be radicalised and there’s never been so many unregulated weapons as there are in Ukraine.

      1. Oh, didn’t you know that we’re on the side of the Nazis in this war? Well, we would have been even in WWII against the Soviet Union but for Hitler’s stupidity in provoking the UK into siding with Poland. Young men with violent, fascist views are not a problem in 2023 UK.

        1. History is not your strong point is it.USSR started ww2 as Nazi allies and invaded Poland from the east at the same time as the Germans invaded from the west.Russia also invaded the Baltic states and Finland while Germany attacked Western europe.Putin is just doing what Russian imperialists have always done.Its almost funny that the Canary which is quick to label anyone to the right of Corbyn as a fascist ends up supporting people like Shamina Begum who actually merit the description.

          1. It seems that you prefer to ignore the glaring fact that the British ruling class, then as now, preferred fascism by far over socialism. Have you forgotten the Nazi-loving King Edward VIII? It was entirely rational for Adolf Hitler to believe, from the 1930s until his death in 1945, that the UK and USA would change sides and ally with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union. After the war, which of the four occupying powers in Germany took de-Nazification most seriously (clue: it had a red flag), and which welcomed Nazi war criminals into its intelligence services (clue: it has stars and stripes)?

            You won’t find me excusing the many crimes of Josef Stalin, but those were not the reason the UK and US governments hated the Soviet Union. Vladimir Putin is just doing what the USA has been doing since 1945, and he is open about his continuing desperate wish to join the West as a fellow imperialist. The only reason that the USA won’t accept him is that he is just not compliant enough with US hegemony, unlike the EU, NATO and the UK.

            1. The British ruling classes tended towards support for the Nazis partly because they were still fearful of a Russian revolution situation occuring in the UK, especially in the aftermath of WW1.

              Whereas a communist revolution would have stripped them of their power, wealth and titles, the Nazi regime was quite content to let them keep them.

              Lets not forget that the late Phil the Greek, duke of Edinburgh had four sisters – each one of them married high ranking Nazis.

              Phils own nazi sympathies has been the subject of speculation, but of course we’re not officially allowed to talk about things like that.

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.