February 22, 2023Counter-Terrorism Repatriation Gender International Humanitarian Law Right to Life Accountability and Access to Justice
Today, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) released a judgement rejecting the appeal of Shamima Begum, a young woman born in the UK and raised in London, against the Home Office's decision to strip her of her British citizenship. In doing so, the Commission accepted the permanent exile of a British woman of colour on the grounds that she may be dangerous, even though she has never been convicted of a crime and appears never to have been assessed by any independent experts in psychology or trauma -- and even though the Commission found there is a "credible suspicion" that she is a victim of child trafficking.
While the judgement grapples in detail with UK and European laws intended to prevent human trafficking and aid victims, it appears to punish Begum for not conforming to stereotypes of women and girls. Begum, in the Commission's view, is intelligent, self-aware and outspoken. The Commission appears to conclude -- without evidence -- that girls or women who display these characteristics cannot truly be brainwashed by their traffickers, and substitutes many of its own assumptions about how survivors of trafficking or trauma might behave. It is easy to imagine that if Begum had been more passive, shown less intelligence, cried, and perhaps had lighter skin, then the Home Office, the British media and ultimately the Commission would have viewed her differently.
Lost amid these discussions are the fact that Begum had a human right to hold the beliefs of her choosing, and that not everyone who leaves the UK for a conflict zone abroad returns with a greater likelihood of inflicting violence on others. There are thousands if not millions of people currently in the UK, including members of the country's military, who have witnessed serious violence -- and who at one time may have passionately supported one side of a conflict -- but are no threat to anyone. The Commission does not explain why it believes Begum would pose any greater threat of violence than any of these thousands or millions of other people in the UK who have witnessed violence or, at one time or another, agreed with a group that perpetrates it.
SIAC also rejected Begum’s argument that the stripping of her British citizenship would leave her effectively stateless, since she would once have been able to claim Bangladeshi citizenship. Justice Jay plainly states in the judgement: "Many citizens of the United Kingdom are immune from deprivation action" because the decision would leave them stateless, "but not Ms Begum." This decision leaves millions of British migrants and their children and grandchildren, who may have lived in the UK for decades, out in the cold -- while white British people, on the whole, remain vastly better protected against the life-altering impacts of citizenship-stripping.
SIAC's decision points to a need for further action by Parliament, the UK courts and the European Court of Human Rights to clarify the rights of survivors of trafficking, including survivors of child trafficking.
It also has the real-world consequence of leaving Begum in a camp in which both adults and children face pain and suffering rising to the level of torture, as RSI has found, and in which she may easily die.
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