Citizenship and statelessness: the case of Shamima Begum

Citizenship and statelessness: the case of Shamima Begum

Shamima Begum has dominated headlines since she was discovered in al-Hawl, a sprawling Syrian refugee camp, earlier this year. Her discovery has invigorated both the curiosity and disgust of a nation, as the UK steeled itself against the horrific details surrounding her disappearance.

As one of the four Bethnal Green girls who left the UK to join ISIS fighters in 2015, her choice to go to Syria as a jihadist bride evades modern sensibilities. Discovered by Anthony Loyd, Times journalist, Begum explained the quick course of her indoctrination, relaying the terrible sights she had encountered; recalling the nothingness she felt at witnessing a severed head in a dustbin, and her personal regret that she was not brave enough to remain in the caliphate once defeat looked inevitable. As the UK wrestles with her first unremorseful first interview, questions over her British citizenship continue rage, as politics, law and morality collide. 

Her story has sparked widespread revulsion, not least because her desire to return to the UK is still underscored by an allegiance to the caliphate she was forced to abandon. This revelation prompted UK wide outrage, and the mobilisation of political activism— following her first interview, over 500,000 people signed a petition calling for her citizenship to be stripped. On February 19th Sajid Javid revoked the British citizenship of Begum, calling on the Bangladeshi government to take up Begum as a citizen (Begum’s mother is a dual national of both Britain and Bangladesh) to little success. The country’s minister for state of foreign affairs, Shahriar Alam denied this assertion, saying Begum was ‘nothing to do with Bangladesh’.

As pundits continue to discuss the legitimacy of Javid’s decision, and speculate over the success of the appeal and judicial review launched by Begum’s family, we examine the relationship between state and citizen and the haze of statelessness that wrests Begum.   

Returning ‘home’

Despite Begum’s desire to return to the UK and ‘live quietly’, this does not appear to be a possible reality for the teenager. Javid has been clear in his revocation of her British citizenship, arguing that this decision will not render her stateless as it is still possible for Begum to seek citizenship in Bangladesh—de

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About the author:
Catherine is one of the Future of Law's digital editors. She graduated from Durham University with a degree in English Literature and worked at a barristers chambers before joining Lexis Nexis.