You may have seen the story of the high-profile British aid worker, Tauqir Sharif, who has been stripped of his citizenship without the Government presenting any challengeable evidence in a public court hearing to back up their allegations.
Many people were left asking what are citizenship deprivations, and what impact does a deprivation have on people? We tried to answer some of the most common questions here:
1- What is Citizenship Deprivation?
Citizenship Deprivation is when an individual with British citizenship status – whether through birth, naturalisation, or being a citizen of a British overseas territory or otherwise – has that citizenship removed by the British government.
It is not the same as deportation, though citizenship deprivation can lead to deportation, and in some cases, when the deprivation takes place while the person is overseas, the two happen simultaneously.
2- Who can remove your citizenship?
Citizenship can be removed through an order made by the Secretary of State – in other words a Cabinet minister in charge of a government department. In practice this is most often the Home Secretary.
3- What laws allow for the deprivation of citizenship?
Modern powers that allow for citizenship deprivation can be traced back to the British Nationality Act 1981.
These have been supplemented by a number of post-2000 laws, including the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 and the Immigration Act 2014.
The 1981 Act outlined the boundaries of British Citizenship, and Section 40 of the Act included conditions under which the Secretary of State could deprive citizenship to non-birth citizens – i.e. those who had British citizenship due to naturalisation or registration.
The subsequent laws lowered the threshold to allow for citizenship deprivation whilst expanding the reach of citizenship stripping powers to include British citizens who had been born in Britain.
The Immigration Act 2014 was arguably the most significant change.
This Act provided a loophole for the government whereby a person could be deprived of citizenship, as long as there were “reasonable grounds for believing that the person is able, under the law of a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, to become a national of such a country or territory.”
4- Who can have their citizenship removed?
Currently, there are two primary conditions under which citizenship can be deprived: if a person has gained citizenship through fraud or false representation; or when “the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good”.
This can be used against a British-born British citizen, if, as mentioned above, there are “reasonable grounds for believing” that the individual can become a citizen of another country.
Essentially this means that those British citizens who are able to claim citizenship of another country – through ancestry for example, even if they have never visited or lived in those countries – can have their citizenship removed if it is seen to be “conducive to the public good”.
5- How is it removed in practice?
To make a citizenship deprivation order, the Secretary of State sends a written letter saying:
- they have decided to make the order
- why they have made the order
- that the individual has the right of appeal
It is only necessary that the written order be sent to the individual’s last known address – not that the individual concerned actually receives it.
6- What are the consequences of having your citizenship removed?
The consequences are far-reaching, and CAGE has recorded many testimonies to this effect.
They range from people having to relocate to countries where they have seldom (sometimes never) been, to individuals who have actually had to return to war-torn areas or areas where governments are despotic and have absolutely no regard for human rights.
The result of these cases are serious; ‘War on Terror’ rhetoric, and the stigma of being deported for ‘counter-terrorism’ means people not only struggle to get jobs, but they are the immediate viewed with suspicion. In some cases, they have been targets of raids, detention-without-trial and even drone assassinations.
All of this is the consequence of a process that begins in the UK.
7- Can I challenge Citizenship Deprivations?
It is very difficult to challenge these decisions, for various reasons. Since the majority of deprivations occur when a person is abroad, they struggle to get legal representation and legal aid.
For those who do get legal aid and are able to instruct lawyers in the UK, practically it is extremely difficult to communicate with lawyers and build their legal case.
Aside from the due process violations within the process itself (more on that in a moment), the act of doing so while the person cannot adequately respond due to being abroad, is abusive since it effectively results in that person being stranded.
In most cases the disturbing feature is that the citizen deprivation process involves the use in British courts of secret evidence.
This is when evidence is used against someone and neither that person, nor his/her lawyer are ever allowed to even see this evidence, and so they simply cannot challenge the allegations upon which a citizen deprivation case is based.
This concept collapses all principles of due process.
8- Can I select the legal team that will defend me?
Yes and No.
You can choose your own legal team however, in cases where there is ‘secret evidence’ – which is invoked on the grounds of ‘national security’ – a defendant will be assigned a ‘special advocate’.
This person is a security-vetted Barrister with whom the deprived citizen has minimal contact. The ‘special advocate’ is supposed to argue on their behalf during the secret hearings in the Special Immigrations Appeal Commission (SIAC) courts.
This ‘special advocate’ will not be able to communicate with the person nor their lawyers after they have heard the evidence against them in closed court.
This means that they cannot put the evidence to the individual, and the individual has no idea what is being said about them behind closed doors.
9- How many people have had it removed?
The Government has not published official figures, however from the years of 2010 to 2015, 33 people were stripped of their British citizenship. Since then it was reported in The Times that over 150 had their citizenships removed by 2017, as the conflict in Syria escalated.
We’ve documented, and assisted on many of these cases. We have seen the wide spectrum of people it impacts – from aid workers to ordinary citizens. This is the reality – and our evidence is contrary to the government’s narrative that citizen deprivations only have to do with ‘terrorists’.
10- Does it only happen to terror offenders?
The threshold for triggering citizenship deprivation is either technicalities and/or that “ the Secretary of State is satisfied that deprivation is conducive to the public good”.
This is explained further in Section 40(4A) of the British Nationality Act 1981, which outlines that this person “has conducted him or herself in a manner which is seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom, any of the Islands, or any British overseas territory”.
There is no requirement for the individual to be convicted of any offence, not least a terror offence.
In practice, some individuals have their citizenship deprived for ‘serious crimes’ unrelated to terrorism, whilst others have theirs deprived while they are still abroad.
When this happens, the individual never has their case heard in a court, so he/she never knows on what evidence the allegations against them are actually based.
11- Is it a racist policy?
Yes, because it only ever targets people who have ancestors or parents that are from a different ethnicity.
Citizenship deprivations represent the convergence of far-right populist sentiments that have heralded ‘hostile environment’ policies, which are a product of the agendas of those who seek “to make conditions harder for Muslims across the board”.
It is a policy which seeks to subdue Muslims and children of migrants to the UK: the end result is that we are forever guests who must remain grateful and docile should we wish to remain in the country.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)