Greater powers to deprive people of their British citizenship were introduced under the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. But the laws to deprive certain citizens of their citizenship has been in power a lot longer, and interestingly it is used predominantly for selected groups of people. It’s important to look at who these laws are aimed at and why.
Who is being targetted?
Denial or deprivation of citizenship is a core part of embedding Islamophobia in policy, particularly in Europe, South Asia and the US. This is also the case in the UK, where immigration and nationality legislation over the last twenty years has made it easier to deprive people of British citizenship. Muslims are most affected by these powers. Deprivation of citizenship is therefore a primary aspect of Islamophobia in Britain’s migration system.
Racism, Islamophobia + gender
The subjects of citizenship deprivation in Britain on ‘public good’ grounds have almost exclusively been Muslim and largely from a South Asian, Middle Eastern or North African background. An investigation carried out by the New Statesman discovered that 41% of People of Colour in Britain could be potentially deprived of their citizenship versus 5% of White people. Therefore, it is clear that racialised citizens and Muslims in particular are considered ‘less’ British by the State. There is significant evidence to demonstrate the connections between racist War on Terror logics and citizenship deprivation.
This racism is especially evident in cases affecting people with Bangladeshi heritage. The Immigration Act 2014 allowed the Government to deprive people of their citizenship even if they hold no other citizenship. For those from Bangladeshi heritage, the UK Government misinterpreted Bangladeshi citizenship law, where it states that people of Bangladeshi heritage are able to claim Bangladeshi citizenship, but this must be claimed by the age of 21. In all of these cases, they were able to retain their British citizenship, because they were over 21.
Shamima Begum is a prominent case here. The UK Government revoked her citizenship based on the assumption that she would not be left ‘stateless’ but would have access to Bangladeshi citizenship. However, Bangladesh has been adamant that her claim to Bangladeshi citizenship would be refused if she attempted to claim it.
Another public example of citizenship deprivation has been the case for Abu Hamza, where Egypt stripped him of his citizenship. At the same time, the British Government attempted to do the same, and attempted to deport him to Egypt. In the end, he was extradited to the USA.
Citizenship deprivation is also gendered, as it is mostly men who are impacted. This reflects a decades-long construction of racialised men as emblematic of a foreign threat to the nation.
These are examples of a double standard of punishment for Muslim and racialised British citizens, where the British Government dispossesses them and abdicates responsibility, but there is not the same basis for White Britons with sole British citizenship. This is exacerbated by the fact that most cases of citizenship deprivation now take place while the person is out of the country and therefore unable to re-enter Britain. As long as the practice of deprivation of citizenship continues in this manner, Muslims and People of Colour will always have second-class citizenship in Britain.
Deprivation of citizenship and counter-terror laws are linked: most cases of deprivation on ‘public good’ grounds have been justified using counter-terror legislation. The disproportionate impact of citizenship deprivation on Muslims and People of Colour is amplified by the UK’s counter-terror measures that contribute to heightened Islamophobia. Together, citizenship deprivation and counter-terror powers intensify the idea that Muslims and migratised groups are ‘anti-British’.
The definitions of offences warranting deprivation of citizenship are vague and subjective – in situations where the Home Secretary views deprivation to be conducive to the public good. This includes references to ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’, which have often been defined in relation to the political objectives of the British Government, such as the controversial proscription of the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). This leaves room for ‘arbitrary application and abuse’; neither ‘public good’ in nationality legislation nor ‘extremism’ are adequately defined. This is evident in the lowering of the barrier of proof for counter-terror offences, where intention is given less value than in other crimes, and where defendants bear the burden of proving innocence.
This means that migration is increasingly viewed through national security terms against a backdrop of Islamophobia reinforced by the War on Terror. The figure of the migrant is imagined as Muslim, often male, and seen as a (potential) security threat. This is also internalised, extended towards citizens and residents that resemble the ‘Muslim-migrant-terrorist’ i.e. Black or Brown and especially if they are from a Muslim majority country. Muslims, regardless of migration status, experience borders in daily life through a suspicion based on the Islamophobic assumption of their proximity to terrorism, and are always at risk of their citizenship being deprived.
That is why an intersectional and anti-oppression approach is essential. It means acknowledging the role Islamophobia and counter-terrorism laws play in immigration legislation and challenging the construction of migrants from Muslim-majority countries as ‘threats’ to the UK.
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Deprivation of citizenship