Former IS Wife Faces Citizenship Fight

Home Secretary Sajid Javid speaking at an event in 2014, when he was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport  [Wikimedia Commons].

Home Secretary Sajid Javid speaking at an event in 2014, when he was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport [Wikimedia Commons].

The family of former Islamic State (IS) wife Shamima Begum intends to challenge the United Kingdom’s attempt to revoke her British citizenship after Home Secretary Sajid Javid issued the decision on February 19.

Authorities discovered Begum at a Syrian refugee camp last week after she left the IS stronghold of Baghuz. The 19-year-old resident of East London left the U.K. to join the terrorist group in 2015, but now claims that she wishes to return home. Voicing her desire for forgiveness, Begum has also stated that she never wanted to be the group’s "poster girl," and that she was hoping to return to the U.K. to “settle back again and rehabilitate.”

However, the British Home Office has since stripped Begum of her British citizenship on the grounds that she is of Bangladeshi descent and is thus eligible for Bangladeshi citizenship. Commenting to BBC, the Home Office’s lawyers stated that Bangladeshi law dictates that based on her mother’s citizenship, Begum is automatically a citizen of the country. The Home Office’s revoking of citizenship is only viable and legitimate if the individual in question possesses citizenship in another country.

Nevertheless, on February 20, Bangladesh’s ministry of foreign affairs argued that Begum is not a citizen of the country and that she had been "erroneously identified" as a Bangladeshi national. The ministry stressed that Begum had never visited Bangladesh, and that the government has a "zero tolerance" approach to terrorism and violent extremism.

Wanting to cement her place in the U.K., Begum has also argued that she has no ties with Bangladesh, asking the government to understand that she had “made a mistake, a very big mistake, because [she] was young and naïve.” The Begum family’s lawyer, Tasnime Akunjee, told reporters that the family was considering "all legal avenues" to contest the Home Office’s decision.

Established precedent makes a case for the U.K. to deny Begum British citizenship. The 1981 British Nationality Act dictates that an individual may be denied citizenship and that the incumbent Home Secretary can determine whether revocation would be "conducive to the public good.” The current Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has sympathetically made a case for Begum’s newborn child to be eligible for citizenship despite his mother’s situation. In his address to the House of Commons, he stated that "children should not suffer…if a parent does lose their British citizenship, it does not affect the rights of their child.” Javid added that the power to deprive a person of citizenship should be used only "in extreme circumstances.”

Javid further contended that he would not "hesitate to prevent" the return of Britons who travelled to Syria to join IS. Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott went even further in her sympathy towards Begum, actually accusing Javid of potentially breaching the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with his declaration on the issue.

Begum is currently stateless and awaiting the decision on whether the U.K. will allow her to return.