Shamima Begum was just 15 when she was radicalised by Isis militants online and smuggled into Syria.
She left her home and family in Bethnal Green, London with two of her school friends, to be married off to a Dutch fighter in the state of Raqqa.
Living on the compound, and still a teenager, she gave birth to two children, both of whom died through illness.
Having fled the compound after it was seized by rival militants, she is now being held in a refugee camp. She has just given birth to her third child, and is pleading with the British government to allow her to return home in order to keep her baby boy alive.
Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Ms Begum, 19, said: “I didn’t know what I was getting into when I left.
“I was hoping that maybe for the sake of me and my child they’d let me come back. Because I can’t live in this camp forever.
“They don’t have any evidence against me doing anything dangerous. When I went to Syria I was just a housewife for the entire four years. Stayed at home took care of my kids.”
Why Is This Case Causing So Much Controversy?
Ms Begum’s request has sparked a national debate over whether or not Britain should allow Isis fighters the chance to return home.
This has been exacerbated by a series of interviews she has given to the UK media since she was found in the camp by a Times journalist last week.
Image credit: Commons/Wikimedia
Answering questions about her regrets over Isis and what she thought about the execution of prisoners that was taking place on the compound she lived on, she appeared to some to show a lack of remorse.
In response, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said that he would move to “block” her return to the UK.
I was hoping that maybe for the sake of me and my child they’d let me come back. Because I can’t live in this camp forever.
He went on to suggest that a 650-year-old piece of legislation on treason was “worth looking at carefully” in order to prevent the return of radicalised British citizens.
Justice secretary David Gauke, however, disagreed with him, refuting the idea that Britain can move to make its citizens “stateless” regardless of the criminality of their situation.
What Is Statelessness?
Under international law, a stateless person is someone who is “not considered as a national by any state under the operation of its law.”
This definition derives from Article 1 of the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons.
A refugee camp in Jordon. Image Credit: Wikimedia
The UK uses this definition to provide rules about who can stay in Britain as a stateless person. Under the Immigration Rules Part 14, a person may not be given permission to stay if they can live permanently in another country or if they have a criminal record.
The United Nations High Commissioner Report (UNHCR) estimates that there are around 10 million stateless people living globally, although the exact figure is not known.
Is Nationality A Human Right?
Yes, and it is internationally recognised as such.
The legal instruments that describe nationality as a human right include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and many more.
Making someone stateless doesn’t just violate a person’s right to a nationality, it violates their access to other human rights too.
Julian Norman, human rights barrister
“Arbitrary deprivation of nationality”, which means deliberately moving to make a citizen stateless, is prohibited under these instruments.
Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is particularly explicit on this point.
How Does Being Stateless Effect An Individual’s Human Rights?
“Making someone stateless doesn’t just violate a person’s right to a nationality, it violates their access to other human rights too,” Julian Norman, an experienced human rights barrister who specialises in immigration law at Drystone Chambers, tells RightsInfo.
“Women’s rights and the rights of the child are disproportionately affected by statelessness.”
“Particularly relevant to the Shamima Begum case is the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Her child also has the right to a nationality.
“Without a nationality, a person will not be able to travel, to have access to healthcare, employment, and not have any way of supporting themselves.
“There is no recourse of any state to help them survive. They will never be able to involve themselves in education, social security, political discourse or protect themselves legally.”
Where Does This Leave Shamima Begum?
Barring Ms Begum’s return to the UK, as the Home Secretary has suggested the Home Office is considering doing in recent public statements, is ethically questionable however on the grounds of the human right to a nationality.
“There has been a lot of conversation about Shamima Begum, and whether she should have any right to housing or healthcare [in the UK],” Norman concludes.
But to be deprived of nationality, to leave her and her child with no nationality at all and no state, could be in breach of Article 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 on Inhuman and Degrading Treatment.
“But to be deprived of nationality, to leave her and her child with no nationality at all and no state, could be in breach of Article 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998 on Inhuman and Degrading Treatment.”
Article 3 states that “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
This is considered an “absolute right” with no exceptions.