For ethnic minorities in today's Britain, citizenship is no longer a right, but a privilege

For ethnic minorities in today's Britain, citizenship is no longer a right, but a privilege
Comment: The Shamima Begum ruling suggests that for Britain's ethnic minorities, our citizenship is not as 'valid' as ethnically white Britons, writes Aniqah Choudhri.
5 min read
14 Feb, 2020
Begum lost the first stage of her appeal against her revoked citizenship [Getty]

For many people in the UK, the issue of citizenship, especially for those born here, is seen as an unquestionable right. Many of us go through life without even considering that it might be taken away. The case of Shamima Begum has shown ethnic minorities in Britain that this feeling of safety was an illusion.

Shamima Begum, now 20, is a British-born woman who was groomed online as a teenager by Islamic State (IS) propaganda.

She left her home in London's Bethnal Green for Syria at the age of 15. Ten days after arriving, the Dutch-born Yago Riedijk, then aged 23, married her despite her being underaged. Since then, she has witnessed air strikes, brutal executions and experienced the death of her three children.

Her third child was born in a Syrian refugee camp only to die of a lung infection after the then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, had 
revoked her British citizenship. 

It is against international law to make an individual stateless. Begum is of Bangladeshi heritage but has never visited the country. She is British-born and does not have dual nationality. When Javid stripped Begum of her citizenship, the Home Office defended his decision's legality by claiming she is eligible for the citizenship of another country.

Even more damning, the tribunal where Begum lost the first stage of her appeal last Friday reached the same conclusion; that Begum would not be stateless as she is, "a citizen of Bangladesh by descent". This, despite the Bangladesh government refused to accept Begum as a citizen back in February 2019. 

This creates a two-tier system of citizenship on account of race alone

The idea that your British citizenship can be revoked because you have parents or grandparents originally from another country, sends a bleak message to ethnic minorities in Britain. Our citizenship is not as "valid" as ethnically white Britons. This creates a two-tier system of citizenship on account of race alone. It illustrates that even if our children are born in Britain, their citizenship will not be as legitimate as their white counterparts. 

For British Muslims in particular this case is particularly harmful. Baroness Warsi said back in 2017, "I still feel like every day I'm having to face a loyalty test." The question of if British Muslims have "British values" has been a recurring theme in media and politics for years, with figures such as Nigel Farage stating that British Muslims are "conflicted in their loyalties."

This case not only validates such opinions, and further stigmatise their victims, but it also plays into the hands of terrorist organisations who have long stated that Muslims will never be accepted in the West. 

Although for ethnic minorities born in the UK this is the first significant case to illustrate the shaky foundations of our place in Britain, for British nationals born in the Commonwealth this has already been a bitter pill to swallow for years.

Read more: Vicious treatment of Meghan and Harry exposes a deeply racist UK

"Windrush scandal" a series of events that led to wrongful detention, denial of legal rights, threats of deportation and actual deportation for British subjects who had been in Britain for over 50 years, came to a head in 2018. The word scandal implies that this was a singular occurrence, but the deportation of people who have grown up in Britain or lived here for years is still ongoing. 

Just this week, a deportation flight to Jamaica was scheduled despite some of the people due to be on board having arrived in the UK as young as five years old. Javid has described them as, "foreign national offenders," further cementing the idea that certain people are not British, regardless of whether they have grown up here, have children here, work here and know no-one in the country they are being deported to.

last minute court of appeal ruling ordered the Home Office to remove more than half the people from the flight, but the remaining passengers were still deported in the early hours of the morning. 

Also this week was the case of British citizen, Fatush Lala, who was blocked from returning home to the UK after a holiday because the Home Office revoked his passport and rendered him stateless.

Lala, who has lived in Britain for 20 years, has been forced to sleep on the streets in Brussels while the Home Office state they cannot comment on individual cases. He has no life anywhere but in the UK, and came here as a minor after being separated from his family during the Serbian conflict. 

The three cases of Shamima Begum, the Jamaica 50 flight and Fatush Lala have all occurred in the space of just the last week.

Begum's banishment sends a message to ethnic minorities in Britain: our citizenship is conditional

All three are morally and legally questionable, but Begum's case is where we can really see the hostile environment against ethnic minorities has escalated. Even if we are born in Britain, our citizenship is still up for debate. 

Shamima Begum was a 15-year old British schoolgirl groomed online by IS. Regardless of her past she should be brought back to the UK to be judged for her actions here as a British citizen.

There are countless cases in this country of adult individuals committing the most terrible of crimes - from murder, to rape, to child abuse. Why is this particular case being used as an example of citizenship in Britain?

Begum's banishment sends a message to ethnic minorities in Britain: our citizenship is conditional, whether we were born here or became naturalised British citizens. Even if it is not our particular group being affected today, it may be tomorrow. Under this increasingly hostile regime, our silence will not protect us.

Aniqah is a freelance journalist based in Manchester. Her work has appeared in The Independent, gal-dem and Exeunt Magazine. She also writes fiction and poetry and has been published in several anthologies.

Follow her on Twitter: @aniqahc 

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.