No Person Should be Stripped of their Citizenship – No Matter how Heinous their Crime

As countries grapple with handling ISIS recruits wanting to come home, the value of citizenship needs to be reexamined

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No Person Should be Stripped of their Citizenship – No Matter how Heinous their Crime

Shamima Begum, courtesy of Al Jazeera

Shamima Begum, courtesy of Al Jazeera

Shamima Begum, courtesy of Al Jazeera

Shamima Begum, courtesy of Al Jazeera

Jake Neuffer, Editor-in-Chief

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Shamima Begum left the UK for Syria when she was 15. She quickly married Dutchman and ISIS fighter Yago Riedijk. Together, they had three children. Only one remains, and, now, Shamima wants to come home. There is one problem, though. Begum has no legal right to return because the UK has stripped her of her citizenship.

Under British law, citizenships can legally be revoked if a person holds another nationality. Begum’s parents come from Bangladesh, allowing her to, theoretically, claim citizenship there. Despite the fact she does not speak a word of Bengali, nor has she ever visited the country, this has qualified her for citizenship revocation.

Begum joined ISIS and supported a brutal regime. She deserves punishment. But revoking her citizenship is not a step in the right direction, for a number of reasons.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights says, “Everyone has the right to a nationality.” While the document isn’t legally binding, the words represent a moral truth: Much like how every person is entitled to due process of law, every person is also entitled to citizenship, regardless of what they’ve done or who they are. When people are stripped of citizenship, there is the possibility of leaving them stateless, with no nationality, no opportunity, and no legal status. They are, effectively, locked out of the global system and have no access to legal protections. This is a terrible state for any person to be in ,and and is where Begum currently finds herself.

There is also the issue of accountability. It is incredibly irresponsible for governments to disown their own people, because doing so lets them wash their hands of responsibility.

For the UK to disown Begum is for them to say, this person is not British. But Begum is British. She grew up in the UK, was educated there, and has family and friends there.

This is especially troubling for nations with dark pasts. Both the UK and Germany (which recently announced a similar policy to the UK) histories of atrocity, and for them to abandon their citizens is an insult to those people that suffered under the thumb of oppressive governments. Every country, but especially these two, should hold themselves accountable for their mistakes. Not just those in the past, but those now. They need to hold themselves accountable and take responsibility, not shy away.

Developed nations, as well, should be stepping up. Begum can not return to the UK, and so, barring voluntary imprisonment, her choices are to stay in the Middle East or seek refuge in Bangladesh. In either circumstance, her life falls into the hands of a developing nation that does not have resources to spare, rather than a developed nation that maintains one of the world’s highest GDPs.

For all of these reasons, it may still be tempting to say that Begum deserves this, deserves to be abandoned in a foreign country for abandoning her own country. Indeed, she still hasn’t sought repentance for what she’s done. In an interview with the The Times, she said, “I don’t regret coming here.”

What’s important to consider, though, is that it is not only Begum’s life that is on the line. It is also her child’s.

And there is where the strongest case against citizenship revocation lies. When people are stripped of their legal status, so are their children. And, then, because of the mistakes of a parent, the child is deprived of opportunity and safety. Begum’s child has had its life in the UK exchanged for one as a perpetual refugee with her. Not only is it outrageously unfair, but that child is now vulnerable to a future of bitterness and radicalization.

When people are punished in this way, it’s the children who suffer the most.

For the foreseeable future, it appears that Begum has no recourse, and that she will remain a stateless person deprived of citizenship, nationality, and legal status.


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