The decision by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) to dismiss Shamima Begum’s appeal against the removal of her British citizenship, is, frankly, an appalling one.
In 2019, the then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, deeming her a security risk, stripped Shamima Begum of her citizenship. Left stateless as a result, she has been living in a refugee camp in north Syria since. On Wednesday, 22 February, SIAC announced that her legal appeal against this had been dropped, ruling that the Home Office’s original decision had been lawful. I am disheartened and outraged by this decision, and anyone who believes in the integrity of British democracy, and the preservation of human rights, should be too.
Under the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, it is illegal for governments to make someone stateless. The Home Office justified this in the case of Shamima Begum as she was technically entitled to Bangladeshi citizenship, despite having been born, raised, and educated in Britain. One cannot help but wonder, would they have made the same decision in the case of someone born to European immigrants who was groomed by a far-right neo-Nazi organisation? A rhetorical question, because we all know the answer is that they would not have.
When Shamima Begum moved to Syria to join IS in 2015, she was a girl of only fifteen years old, and clearly the victim of grooming and human trafficking. In the eight years since, she has given birth to three children, all of whom have died. The trauma she has experienced is unimaginable, and too many people seem to forget this when scrutinising every word she says in the press. She is bound to be desensitised to violence, enduring all she has done, and not having the resources to support her to process it. Although the SIAC panel itself agreed that there was evidence Begum “was recruited, transferred and then harboured for the purpose of sexual exploitation”, they did not find this sufficient to overrule the revoking of her citizenship. It truly sickens me that we live under a regime where indisputable evidence of child-trafficking is not enough to prevent the government from rendering a vulnerable woman stateless.
It is shocking and disturbing to witness the vitriol directed at Shamima Begum from a large proportion of the British population. A brief scroll through the comments of GB News’ twitter posts discussing the subject left me deeply unsettled by the attitudes of so many. People celebrating gleefully, calling it the “best news of the week”, or relishing in the news by sharing overtly racist images directed at Muslims. Seeing this spewing makes me ashamed to live in this country, where children can be blindly labelled as terrorists without any recognition of the coercion and grooming techniques that led to wrong decisions.
Make no mistake, this decision has far wider implications than one woman – it is a threat to the citizenship of diaspora groups in general. The government set a very dangerous precedent when they made Begum stateless, one that alludes that Britishness is something that can be given and taken away, and that possessing citizenship hinges upon avoiding criminalisation.
The bottom line is, Shamima Begum is a British woman, and should have every right to remain so. The complete lack of sympathy and villainization she faces is a direct result of a political climate that fosters racism and religious intolerance. Politicians like Suella Braverman and Boris Johnson are in part responsible for this, as are right-wing media outlets like The Daily Mail. If she were a white girl who had been groomed at radicalised as a teenager, I am almost certain she would already be safely home and rehabilitated by now. Obviously, it is not a black and white case for her innocence, and I do not defend the choices she made in 2015 – but I can recognise that she was a child when she made them, and that they were instrumented by external forces from which Britain, as a country, had a duty to protect her.
Shamima Begum should absolutely be permitted to return to the UK. It is her home; she belongs here as much as anybody else.
“New online application process for British passports” by UK in Spain is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.