When can governments revoke citizenship?

“IT’S KIND of heartbreaking to read,” said Shamima Begum in response to a letter from the Home Office telling her that her British citizenship had been revoked. Ms Begum (pictured), who was born in Britain, left the country four years ago, aged 15, to join Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Located by a journalist from the Times in a refugee camp last month, Ms Begum expressed a desire to return to Britain. That request has been denied. The case is proving controversial, with suggestions from some quarters that Britain has violated international law by leaving Ms Begum stateless. When can governments revoke citizenship?

 

The practice is not new. In America the Expatriation Act of 1907 removed a woman’s citizenship if she married a foreign man, and the country used similar tools throughout the 20th century against Nazi collaborators, suspected spies and other “un-American” citizens. During the second world war the Vichy regime denaturalised 15,000 French citizens, many of them Jews. In 1967 America’s Supreme Court ruled that citizens could only be denaturalised if their citizenship was fraudulently gained—by concealing an involvement in past crimes, for example. In recent years the withdrawal of citizenship has been used by some countries in the fight against terrorism, as a way to prevent jihadists from returning home. Many countries reserve the right to remove citizenship if a person is in some way treasonous: Denmark and Australia have done so with IS fighters.