The real scandal of the Shamima Begum citizenship case | Shamima Begum

Prof Conor Gearty complains about the special immigration appeals commission’s “deference” to the government in its judgment on Shamima Begum (Shamima Begum has shown up courts’ deference to this government. It’s a worrying new era, 23 February). Decisions on deprivation of citizenship are required by statute to be made by the home secretary. The commission’s job was therefore to decide whether the home secretary’s decision was properly made, not whether it agreed with it. That is what it did. In a democracy governed by the rule of law, Prof Gearty should not have been surprised.

Meanwhile, his analysis distracts attention from the real scandal. By statute, the home secretary cannot deprive a person of British citizenship if it would render them stateless. The person must have citizenship of at least one other country. When the decision was made, in 2019, Ms Begum was 19. She was a citizen of Bangladesh, but only in the most technical sense. She had provisional citizenship until she was 21, when it would lapse unless she took it up. This was because her parents were born there. But she has never been to Bangladesh. She has no links with the country. And Bangladesh has disowned her. Her Bangladeshi citizenship always was a legal fiction. Today, it is not even that. She is 23. As a result of the home secretary’s decision, she is stuck in a camp in Syria, with no citizenship anywhere and no prospect of one. Children who make a terrible mistake are surely redeemable. But statelessness is for ever.

Many of those deprived of citizenship under the British Nationality Act are in the same position. They have had thrust on them under the law of an alien country a citizenship which they never chose and which has no practical reality. If not the courts, then parliament needs to address this issue.
Jonathan Sumption
Justice of the supreme court, 2012-18

The case of Shamima Begum continues to disturb me both because I am a naturalised British citizen and also due to the continued indifference of so many British people to it. The discussion as to whether she was radicalised here or trafficked should surely come second to the principle of treating all citizens equally. The idea that I could lose my citizenship if I break the law is pretty scary, but the idea that the same could happen to my children, who were born here to a British father and have never had another citizenship, is surely even more unjust.

The fact that my children could be treated differently if they commit a crime, just because they are likely to qualify for another country’s citizenship, starkly highlights how we’ve created two classes of citizens: those with British ancestry, who get to stay here and be part of the justice and rehabilitation system, and those we can just get rid of as they’ve had the misfortune of a mixed or foreign heritage. The very idea of this should be abhorrent to any decent-minded individual.
Ilina Todorovska

I was interested to note that Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia who has been convicted of crimes including terrorism, rape and murder, currently “languishes in a British prison”, in the words of Gordon Brown (Opinion, 24 February), while Shamima Begum, convicted of no offence, is judged too dangerous to be allowed into the country. I can’t help feeling that were Ms Begum inclined to undermine our way of life, she would face stiff competition, not least from the MPs who empowered the home secretary to make decisions like this.
Owen Stewart
Gatley, Cheshire

Last Wednesday was a shameful day to be British (Shamima Begum loses appeal against removal of British citizenship, 22 February). It was terrible and shameful to hear of the verdict that Shamima Begum will not be returned to the UK to answer for her actions, help prevent future radicalisation, and meet the same standards that the vast majority of our allies apply.

The frenzy of blame heaped on this young woman has shocked and disgusted me as it so misrepresents what I believe to be widespread empathy. As a girl she was groomed online and made a bad choice. With three dead children, sexual exploitation and more, she has paid a terrible price for that mistake as a child.

I hope that those baying for blood these many years consider what if their child made a poor decision in a social media and peer group bubble, and then was failed dismally by our border, school, community and police systems.

A report issued last year by the all-party parliamentary group on trafficked Britons in Syria, after a six-month inquiry, criticised this policy of citizenship-stripping. I, for one, hope she has further legal options and, if not, an incoming government will review these cases and legal basis for citizenship, and retaining it – that protects us all. This is a new low for a government that long since abandoned common decency, common sense and true national interest to scapegoatism.
Andrew Snowdon
Great Yarmouth, Norfolk

Reading Maya Foa’s article on the special immigration appeals commission judgment on Shamima Begum (Don’t judge Shamima Begum today: judge the cruel ministers who still won’t take responsibility for her, 22 February), I note similarities with the notorious kidnap and indoctrination of 19-year-old Patty Hearst by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974.

Two months later, she announced in an audiotape that she had joined the SLA and taken the name Tania. During the following 17 months, she actively took part in a series of violent carjackings and bank robberies in which people were shot and at least one died. When arrested, charged and tried for armed bank robbery, Ms Hearst was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment, despite her claims of brainwashing and rape. Her sentence was later reduced to seven years, and commuted after 22 months by President Jimmy Carter.

One can’t help reflecting that Ms Begum would have been wise to have been a white, US citizen and the granddaughter of a publishing magnate, instead of being born in one of the most deprived areas of the UK, the daughter of working-class immigrants from Bangladesh.
Carmel Bedford
Clonbur, County Galway, Ireland


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.