A grim warning for every ethnic minority in Britain

What the Supreme Court's ruling on Shamima Begum means for ethnic minorities in Britain
5 min read
08 Mar, 2021
Comment: It's now not just the government that has undermined the certainty of our citizenship, but the justice system too, writes Aniqah Choudhri.
The Supreme Court rejected Begum's request to return to the UK [Getty]
The Supreme Court recently ruled unanimously that Shamima Begum will not be able to return to the UK to fight her citizenship case.

This leaves her stranded in a detention camp in Syria where she has been for years, and where she also lost her youngest child. Shamima Begum's case is a controversial one. She was groomed and exploited online at just 15 years old by Islamic State (IS), married to a stranger, and then spent the following years in a horrific war-zone where she lost three of her children.

Despite this, she has often been treated as a monster, rather than a child who was groomed online by a sophisticated terrorist organisation. But Shamima's story goes beyond the circumstances of her case alone, and is a grim warning for every ethnic minority in Britain. 

I wrote last year about how this case has made our citizenship conditional. The defence for stripping Begum of her citizenship - an extreme act that goes against international law - was that she has a right to citizenship in Bangladesh. But Begum was born in the UK and has never set foot in Bangladesh.

The UK reasons that Bangladesh should just accept the people they don't want to deal with themselves, and this is problematic enough. But even more so is the implication that ethnic minorities do not have as strong a claim to citizenship as white British people.

It makes our citizenship conditional on our behaviour in a way that white citizens do not face

It doesn't matter if you were born here, it doesn't even matter if your parents were born here. If you have an ethnicity that can be traced to another country then your right to citizenship can be brought into question.

One year later, and the situation is even worse. The prime minister and the cabinet's disturbing track record with ethnic minorities is widely known, as are the laws they have frequently dismissed.

Up until now, however, the justice system has provided a valuable source of hope, by working to keep the government in check. In July, 
the Court of Appeal ruled that Shamima Begum should be granted leave to enter the UK to contest the revocation of her citizenship. But the Supreme Court has now overruled this.

The highest court in the UK has effectively backed Sajid Javid's original decision to strip Begum of her citizenship by making it impossible for her to return and contest it. And so now, it's not just the government that has undermined the certainty of our citizenship, but the justice system too.

The human rights group Liberty 
points out what a dangerous precedent this sets. Lawyer, Rosie Brighouse states, "The right to a fair trial is not something democratic governments should take away on a whim, and nor is someone's British citizenship." 

Read more: More than 75% of Syrian refugees suffer mental trauma: report

Taking away a British person's citizenship is becoming more common than you might realise. Even back in 2019, The Independent ran an article on the shocking rise in citizenship deprivations - up by 600% in just one year.

Then we saw the 
Windrush Scandal, overseen by the then-Home Secretary Amber Rudd, where former Commonwealth citizens were detained and deported from the UK. The pain and devastation this caused to Black British people, some deported from their home after nearly 50 years, and others having to prove to a hostile immigration system that they were truly British, is unforgivable.

Today's current Conservative government includes the likes of Sajid Javid and Priti Patel, who has a grim and extreme history of targeting ethnic minorities over citizenship and the right to live in the UK.

Over Christmas of 2020, the Home Office 
still didn't pause its push to deport Black residents from the country, and only thanks to legal action were all of the Jamaica 50 not put on the plane and sent over 4,000 miles away. Many had arrived to the UK as children. Some were transferred from prison and some had been rehabilitated for years and were taken from their families.

Taking away a British person's citizenship is becoming more common than you might think

The message behind all this; that if you are an ethnic minority and a good member of society then you will be safe, but if you are a "criminal," then you will be deported, is a sinister one. It doesn't take into account that Begum was groomed as a child, that many of the Jamaica 50 had already been rehabilitated, that our policing and current justice system is more likely to be biased against Black and Asian people than their white counterparts.

It makes our citizenship, and the citizenships of all ethnic minorities conditional on our behaviour in a way that white citizens do not face. Even today, 
a British radio show asked the unbelievable question if Harry and Meghan should lose their citizenship. The idea that anyone who does something not even illegal, but an action that doesn't fit in with the views of the establishment, can be faced with deportation, is being normalised frighteningly quickly.


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 

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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.