The verdict rejecting the appeal of the so-called ISIS bride, Shamima Begum, has stoked an important debate in the United Kingdom, raising serious concerns and anxiety among migrant families and rights activists. Rights activists are concerned that this judgement allows the British government—or to be more precise, the Home Secretary—to revoke anyone’s citizenship on the pretext of alleged terrorism offences without any prosecution, on the basis of the person’s parents’ origin. British anti-terror law allows the government to take away the citizenship of anyone accused of commissioning or committing terrorist acts, provided that person does not become stateless. Migrants are worried that this is making their descendants second-tier citizens despite being born in Britain.
However, there is more in this judgement that should worry authorities in Bangladesh too. The three judges of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), in reaching their decisions, among other things, relied on Bangladesh’s relevant laws and a Supreme Court ruling. The Commission, in its February 7 judgement, concluded that if Bangladeshi courts applied Bangladeshi law properly, then the Bangladeshi Government would have to grant her citizenship.
The appeal was against two decisions of the British government: revocation of her citizenship, and refusing her leave to enter the UK in order to enable her to pursue her appeal effectively. The court considered three issues to decide her fate—does revoking British nationality leave her “stateless”? Is it in breach of policy by exposing her to risk of serious harm? Was she able to participate properly in her appeal? As the most crucial part of the appeal was her citizenship, a significant portion of court deliberations were focused on the issue of whether the action taken by the British government made her stateless.
Strangely enough, the legal deliberations seemed more focused on establishing whether she would become stateless or not, instead of the legality of the contested action that stripped her of her citizenship. The judges examined Bangladesh’s citizenship laws and other constitutional provisions in great detail, including the evolution of these rules. They heard two experts on Bangladesh law and referred to an article authored by a special assistant to the Bangladesh Prime Minister on this subject. The Supreme Court verdict on the citizenship of former Jamaat chief Golam Azam also featured heavily in the deliberations.
In the judgement, it was concluded that Shamima Begum is neither de jure (according to law) nor de facto (in reality, but not sanctioned by the state) stateless. The court rejected the appellant’s argument that the Bangladesh government would not treat her as a national and she would not be able to challenge that in court. The judges also rejected the appellant’s submission that the Supreme Court in Bangladesh would not be able to decide against the government due to political pressure and a lack of independence. These judges have taken the view that when the British Home Secretary revoked her citizenship, Shamima was a citizen of Bangladesh by descent, by virtue of Section 5 of the 1951 Citizenship Act. In their view, “she held the citizenship as of right. That citizenship was not in the gift of the government, and could not be denied by the government in any circumstances”.
Shamima Begum is not the only terror suspect that the British government has been trying to offload onto Bangladesh; there are several others in the pipeline. In fact, the New York Post on December 8, 2019, precisely two months before Shamima’s verdict, reported that the UK High Court had affirmed similar expulsions of two more British-Bangladeshis suspected of terror ties. In those two cases, identities of the suspects were not revealed and the High Court overturned the initial SIAC ruling that allowed their appeals. The High Court, in its ruling on the appeals brought by the suspects named E3 and N3, said that “they can in fact claim citizenship in Bangladesh, meaning they would not be left stateless if barred from Britain”. Suppression of identities made it difficult to determine their latest whereabouts. Media reports in the past have listed nearly a dozen or more terror suspects in Britain of Bangladeshi descent.
Fears among migrants are also rising due to another dreaded policy of the British government, unrelated to terrorism, but aimed at curbing crime. However, it affects migrants who have gained citizenship through naturalisation. This worry emanates from the latest forced deportation of more than a dozen British–Jamaicans belonging to an immigrant group better known as the Windrush generation, for crimes unrelated to terrorism. Amidst protests from the opposition and rights groups against these deportations, which they term as discriminatory and racist, the government said “it is entirely right that foreign national offenders should be deported from the country in accordance with the law”.
Critics of both these policies argue that these British nationals have gone astray due to the government’s failings in providing them the right education, training and opportunities. Those who became jihadists were being radicalised in Britain under the noses of the security services. In Shamima’s case, some have argued that she was a victim of grooming at the age of 15 and subjected to sexual abuse. It has been further suggested that problems originated in Britain should be dealt with in Britain and attempts to shift them onto others are both immoral and unfair. However, so far, the current Tory government remains unmoved.
Kamal Ahmed is a journalist.