It's not just 'undesirables': Why Priti Patel's citizenship bill endangers the rights of all UK citizens
The latest amendment to the migration policy proposed by Priti Patel will no longer require the government to give any notice to individuals who they wish to strip of their British citizenship. The reasons given for not informing those being deprived include: that it is in the interests of the public and of national security, that it isn’t “reasonably practicable” to give notice, or even that this approach will benefit diplomatic relations.
Whilst the laws involving citizenship removal have existed since 2002 – and have been extended throughout the intervening years, including through the Immigration Act (2014) – the particular clause that removes the responsibility of giving any notification to those impacted, delivers yet another blow to human rights.
"The use of citizenship deprivation, which is now going to be rolled out even more viciously and comprehensively by the British state, has to be fought and understood as an assault on all our rights"
“This amendment sends the message that certain citizens, despite being born and brought up in the UK and having no other home, remain migrants in this country. Their citizenship, and therefore all their rights, are precarious and contingent,” explained Frances Webber, vice-chair of the Institute of Race Relations.
The most recent plans by Patel are perhaps unsurprising to civil liberties groups and activists who warned of an intensification of dystopian practices by the British state, following the case of Shamima Begum.
The young woman, who had been groomed online as a child, and subsequently left the UK to marry an IS fighter in Syria at the age of 15, found herself at the centre of a political storm when then Home secretary Sajid Javid stripped her of her British citizenship. She had requested to return home and face a fair trial. She has since lost all three of her children and remains stateless, living in the Al-Roj refugee camp in northeast Syria.
Dr Nisha Kapoor, author of Deport, Deprive, Extradite: 21st Century State extremism, points out that citizenship deprivation was already “a staple feature of counter-terrorism practice” long before Begum’s case.
However, her vilification as “the figure of danger and transgression who cannot, or will not, win for herself that precious sense of innocence and gratitude that so much popular and liberal anti-racism demands” have led us here. “Our partial submission to these demonisations does inure us in turn to the very authoritarianisms that are cultivated on the back of such representations,” Kapoor explains.
The government’s announcement of the bill, also drowned out the recent publication of the Abandoned to Torture: Dehumanising rights violations against children and women in northeast Syria report, by the Rights and Security International (RSI). The report, which documents the conditions in Syria's Al-Hol and Al-Roj camps in areas formerly controlled by IS, explains that those in the camps are exposed to “violence, exploitation, fire, disease, and the forced separation of children from their mothers – with no foreseeable way out”.
The RSI raised serious concerns about the implications of citizenship deprivation, which has left many of the women targeted “in a void that offers no safety or means of challenging their confinement”, adding that children “struggle to survive in unsanitary conditions and with little or no education.” The report further stated that they are “victims of arbitrary detention” and that their conditions “amount to torture”.
In many cases, the decision to strip them of citizenship by countries like the UK is based on the assumption that they are dangerous, which the RSI explains “are usually not based on individualised, independent, and expert assessments”. Instead, they point out that “foreign governments’ views of the children and women in the camps often appear to reflect racial, religious, or gendered stereotypes and – in the case of children – bias based on their parentage.” These discriminatory approaches violate international law and dehumanise the children and women concerned.
"We need to organise and resource legal challenges to the bill, on the basis that it disproportionately affects people from BAME backgrounds and offends the basic principles of natural justice"
The organisation concluded that by using these discriminatory practices that violate international law “governments around the world have, in effect, abandoned these thousands of children and women to torture and death”.
But Priti Patel’s plans not only reflect on the lack of humanity and continued desire to repress civil liberties, which have defined Tory rule over the last decade. They also highlight the collective failures of all of us who continue to take their defence seriously. We must learn from our collective failure to mount sustained opposition to the Home Office’s treatment of Shamima Begum and others.
The use of citizenship deprivation, which is now going to be rolled out even more viciously and comprehensively by the British state, has to be fought and understood as an assault on all our rights. The direction of travel throughout the War on Terror has been a clear one: first roll back basic rights for a specific individual and/or racialised group; then, once it has become normalised enough at the periphery of society, generalise its application across the board to repress political dissent.
It is never too late to take action. As Solicitor Mohammed Akunjee, who represented Shamima Begum, told me:
“We as citizens need to express our disgust by writing to our MP’s with our heartfelt feelings on the matter. We need to organise and resource legal challenges to the bill, on the basis that it disproportionately affects people from BAME backgrounds and offends the basic principles of natural justice.”
As the old slogan goes: what parliament does, the street can undo. But for that, we must get organised, and fast.
Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.
Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia
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