Shamima Begum, a British teenager who ran away from home to live in ISIL’s so-called “caliphate”, will not be allowed to enter Bangladesh, the South Asian country’s state minister for foreign affairs has told Al Jazeera.
“She is a British citizen,” Shahriar Alam said on Wednesday after the UK announced plans to strip Begum of her citizenship, sparking a debate over the ramifications of leaving a 19-year-old mother stateless in a war zone.
“There is no question of her being a Bangladeshi citizen as she never visited the country,” Alam said.
“The current government of Bangladesh maintains a zero tolerance policy on terrorism.”
Begum’s situation has raised legal, ethical and security conundrums for Western governments over how they deal with their citizens who joined the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS) group.
The United States has barred Alabama native Hoda Muthana from returning to her home but has been pressing European countries to repatriate and prosecute their citizens who joined the armed group.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is just days away from capturing the Syrian town of Baghuz, the last sliver of territory controlled by ISIL, say they have captured more than 800 European fighters, and have another 2,200 women and children in their custody.
France has said while it won’t repatriate all 130 of its citizens “en-masse”, it will review each person on a “case-by-case” basis.
Meanwhile, the UK’s Home Secretary Sajid Javid has vowed to prevent anyone who joined ISIL from returning.
According to media reports, Begum is believed to be one of 20 British women and children currently held by the SDF. The Syrian fighters are also said to be holding six suspected British fighters, including two of the so-called “Beatles”.
‘I have one citizenship’
Begum, who gave birth this week at a sprawling refugee camp in northern Syria, has pleaded with the UK government to be repatriated with her family in London, insisting she is not a threat.
“I don’t know how I would be seen as a danger,” she said in a recent interview.
“I’m not going to go back and provoke people to go to ISIS or anything, if anything I’m going to encourage them not to go because it’s not all as it seems in their videos.”
But on Wednesday, a letter from the Home Office to her mother stated that Javid had taken the decision to revoke the 19-year-old’s British citizenship.
Various news outlets, including the BBC, had reported that Javid used Begum’s eligibility for Bangladeshi citizenship via her parents as justification for removing her British citizenship.
Begum, who was born in Britain, has parents who are of Bangladeshi heritage. According to her family and lawyer, she has never been to Bangladesh and does not hold a Bangladeshi passport.
“I have one citizenship … and if you take that away from me, I don’t have anything. I don’t think they are allowed to do that,” she told the BBC after learning of the move.
“This is a life-changing decision and they haven’t even spoken to me.”
‘Sends a chill down the spine’
The UK Home Office did not respond to requests for comment by Al Jazeera but international law forbids countries from making people stateless by revoking their only citizenship.
Javid’s decision was roundly criticised by Muslim groups who said it put millions of British citizens who are dual nationals or eligible for citizenship in another country at risk of having their citizenship revoked.
Under the UK nationality act, the government has the powers to strip both naturalised British nationals and British-born nationals of their citizenship, if their presence in the UK is “not conducive to the public good”.
The only restriction is that such a move cannot make individuals stateless, so in practice, the orders can only be used against individuals who hold dual nationality.
The Muslim Council of Britain, the UK’s largest representative body for British Muslims, said in a statement that the UK government’s decision “amplifies fears” that Britain has a “two-tiered citizenship system”.
“The decision to strip Ms Begum of her citizenship could send a chill down the spine of not just British Muslim communities, but also all Britons whose parents come from immigrant backgrounds.
“[Begum] must be able to face justice and the rule of law, qualities that were sorely missing in the death and destruction of Daesh [an acronym for the ISIL group]”.