Speaking for Ourselves

Editorial: A return to exile

Editorial: A return to exile


 Migrant Voice - Editorial: A return to exile

By attempting to strip a British woman of her citizenship, the Home Secretary has shone a spotlight on a cruel, outdated and extremely troubling UK law.

It’s a racist law that leaves anyone who became British by being naturalised, or who was born British but has a second nationality, vulnerable to being stripped of that citizenship at the whim of the Home Secretary, vulnerable to being exiled. It’s a law that must be revoked.

The 19-year-old Shamima Begum, who left the UK aged 15 to travel to Syria, should be dealt with by the UK justice system.

Instead, the Home Secretary chose to try to bypass due process and issue one of the most severe punishments in the state’s arsenal.

Stripping someone of their citizenship is an act of injustice that shakes our belief in the rule of law in this country, and leaves all those with a migrant background doubtful of their place in our society.

It’s also a shameful act that reduces the UK in the eyes of the world as we choose to foist our rejects on other nations instead of confronting the discomforting truths those people embody.

Anyone born or naturalised in the UK is a product of this country – they are our “problem”, our responsibility, and can be dealt with within our legal system. Yet since 2002, the UK has exiled more than 100 people by revoking their citizenship (according to the Home Secretary), and is doing so at an increasing rate.

In ancient Greece and Rome, exile was used as punishment for murderers and those facing the death penalty. In 21st century Britain, we’re using it on people who have never even faced trial.

And that’s made possible by the extremely vague criteria in the law itself, a source of deep concern for us. If the Home Secretary believes a person has done something “seriously prejudicial to the vital interests” of the UK, the law says, he or she can simply decide to take away that person’s citizenship.

That’s a highly subjective phrase and one that is dangerously open to interpretation by each Home Secretary.

And there’s precedent for the bar to slip. When the government began deporting “foreign criminals” (people who had already served their sentence, but who were then punished a second time, with deportation), they said it would only be people who had committed serious crimes. But that bar quickly slipped. You can now be deported after serving just a twelve-month sentence – two weeks ago we saw a man deported to Jamaica for a driving offence.

We fear that the same thing will happen with the citizenship law, that the criteria for exile will be steadily weakened and its use increased. And we must all be vigilant to signs of that spread.

But the damage wreaked by this law extends far further than the individuals and their families directly affected. It leaves British citizens with a migrant background or history fearful and cripples their sense of belonging.

Because of this law, some people’s citizenship is worth less than others. If one of your parents was born elsewhere, you are less of a citizen, less British, this law tells you. Your future is at the mercy of the Home Secretary, who currently belongs to a government obsessed with appearing “tough” on immigration.

In these circumstances, the idea of integration becomes laughable, and developing cohesion within diverse communities an uphill battle. 

We urge the government to forego any further attempts to strip British people of their citizenship. It is a racist, inhumane and unjust law that has no place in modern society.  

TOP IMAGE: Day 187 - Going on a journey, 9 February 2012 (JLK_254/Flickr)

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