‘Oh master, /I have been unfed for seven days.'/... The priest asks, ‘Oh chap, do you offer your prayers’? /The hungry traveller says, ‘No!’ The priest shouts, ‘Then get out! ' / … The hungry traveller goes back/Saying , ‘Oh God! /I have lived for eighty years/And have never offered prayers /Yet you have never deprived me /Of my food’
Kazi Nazrul Islam
It seems that UK Home Office’s decision to revoke citizenship of Shamima Begum, the London-born teenage girl with origins in Bangladesh who secretly left her London house in 2015 to join the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) armed group, is conceived badly.
However, if the British authorities want to adopt a ‘delaying tactic’ they might be successful.
The UK government on 19 February 2019 deprived Begum, now aged 19, of her British citizenship, making her and her baby effectively stateless, which is clearly inconsistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that recognises that “everyone has the right to a nationality”.
The UN convention adopted in 1961 states, ‘while States maintain the right to elaborate the content of their nationality laws, they must do so in compliance with international norms relating to nationality, including the principle that statelessness should be avoided’.
Begum, the British national who has never visited Bangladesh, who has never had a Bangladeshi passport and who has never applied for it, was stuck in a Syrian detention camp along with her days-old son for days on end. But according to media reports she fled from that place a few days back. When she was just 15, she had left the UK for Syria with two school friends to become a bride of a ISIL (or ISIS) fighter, eventually marrying a Dutch one.
According to UK media news reports, the UK home secretary can deprive someone of British citizenship for the sake of “public good” if that person can apply for alternative nationality. In practice, the UK government may strip a person of citizenship if that person is able to ‘acquire or reacquire the citizenship of another country’.
Despite the fact that Shamima Begum would become stateless by their decision, the UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who was born to parents of Pakistani descent in Rochdale, Lancashire, opted for depriving her of the right, for reasons best known to him or his government.
Begum’s family lawyer Tasnime Akunjee, however, might have the answer. “This is a delaying tactic. The government is not going to win this, there is case law saying people in these circumstances are stateless and we will win but how long will that take?” Akunjee was quoted by British media as saying.
Meanwhile, authorities in Dhaka have said the responsibilities lie with British government. Quoting Bangladesh Foreign Ministry secretary, one of BBC’s Dhaka-based reporters has told the international broadcaster that the matter has nothing to do with Bangladesh government, as it knows nothing about Shamima Begum.
Bangladeshi laws do not allow dual citizenship automatically just because one has a lineage in Bangladesh. Bangladesh government permits dual citizenship under limited circumstances only after submission of application from a person who wants to be a Bangladeshi.
Moreover, according to London-based The Independent, in November 2018 the government was found to have acted unlawfully in removing the citizenship of two alleged Islamists who were British. The government argued the men were eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship, but the UK’s Special Immigration and Appeals Commission found they had been made stateless.
The now digital-only UK’s The Independent also reported the British government was found to have unlawfully deprived a third person of Bangladeshi descent of British citizenship in 2017.
What would happen if Begum were a person from different ethnicity? Is the rush, indiscriminate and arbitrary decision of revoking citizenship of immigrants especially from the poorer regions working as an election boost for politicians? Many politicians nowadays are reaping benefits from growing intolerances in parts of the world previously known for tolerance for religious and ethnic minorities and dissents.
Use of citizenship deprivation has been on the rise. In 2017, the UK government stripped 104 people of their British citizenship, compared to just 14 people in 2016, said the UK-based newspaper.
Quoting Begum’s father Ahmed Ali, who lives with his second wife in a village of Sunamganj district in Bangladesh, AFP reported that her father insisted Britain must take her back before deciding any punishment.
"It was certainly a mistake to go to IS. Perhaps it was because she was a child. She may not have gone there (Syria) willingly. She may have been ill-advised by other people," he was quoted as saying.
Since Begum now wants to go home, and despite the fact that she showed little remorse about her association with ISIS in media interviews from the camp in Syria, it is the duty of the British government to deal with its citizen.
Shamima Begum is a problem of the UK, and she is a problem for the rest of the world too. It is everyone’s responsibility to tackle this problem; but primarily, the responsibility lies with her home country. It is up to the UK whether to give her the punishment or rehabilitation that she deserves.
Is not she worthy of becoming a citizen of a country?
Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976), the poet who was imprisoned during 1920s for his writings against the British, who colonized and ruled the territory called India that included today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh for almost 200 years, aptly says even God does not deprive the people of food if they do not worship Him.
The writer is the Executive Editor of
The Independent. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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