Exclusive: No way back for Britons who join the Syrian fight, says Theresa May

 

Secret use of citizenship-stripping powers has been dramatically stepped up as Theresa May moves to prevent the return of dual-nationals who have gone to fight in Syria.

The Home Secretary has so far revoked the British citizenship of 20 people this year – more than in her previous two- and-a-half years combined.

She has removed the citizenship of 37 people since May 2010, according to figures collated by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Critics warned the practice could leave individuals at risk of torture and ill-treatment in their home countries.

Security sources are particularly alarmed because Syria’s proximity to Europe makes it easier for violent UK-based extremists to travel to and from the country.

A former senior Foreign Office official said it was an “open secret” that British nationals fighting in the Syrian civil war were increasingly losing their citizenship.

He told the Bureau: “This [deprivation of citizenship] is happening. There are somewhere between 40 and 240 Brits in Syria, and we are probably not as quick as we should be to strip their citizenship.”

Ms May has the power to terminate the British citizenship of dual-nationality individuals if she believes their presence in the UK is “not conducive to the public good” or if they have obtained it through fraudulent means.

The Home Office declined to explain the reason for the rise, but it said: “Citizenship is a privilege, not a right, and the Home Secretary will remove British citizenship from individuals where she feels it is conducive to the public good to do so.”

Under the British Nationality Act, “deprivation of citizenship orders” can be made without judicial approval and take immediate effect. The only mechanism for fighting the decision is through legal appeals. In all but two known cases, the orders have been issued while the individual was overseas, leaving them stranded abroad facing legal appeals that can take years if they try to return.

If the Home Secretary is acting on “conducive” grounds, the only restriction is that she cannot render a person stateless, effectively meaning an order can only be used against individuals with dual nationality.

Benjamin Ward, deputy director of Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia Division, said: “If there is a national security dimension to the stripping of citizenship and if that is something that would be known to the other country of nationality, then that would give rise to concern,” he said. “It’s obviously very important that in looking at these issues the Government complies with its human rights obligations.”

The Home Office has been exploring ways to expand citizenship-stripping powers, which were only invoked five times by the last Labour government, so they can be used even when individuals have no dual nationality and will therefore be made stateless.

Ms May is understood to have discussed plans to boost her powers by inserting an amendment into the Immigration Bill which would allow her to remove the citizenship of British nationals who have renounced their previous citizenship but are accused of acts “ seriously prejudicial to the vital interests” of the UK.

In February, the Bureau and The Independent revealed how the Government stepped up use of the orders, employing them 16 times up to late 2012. Latest figures point to a further dramatic escalation. Two of those who lost citizenship, Bilal al-Berjawi and Mohamed Sakr, were later killed in drone strikes in Somalia.

Another man, Mahdi Hashi, born in Somalia, lost his citizenship last year and is in prison in New York facing terrorism charges. When his parents approached the Government for help in finding him, they were told he was “no longer a British national and as such has no right to receive consular assistance”.

At least five of those who lost their nationality were born in the UK. Unlike with other counter-terrorism powers, there is no official scrutiny of deprivation of citizenship and no routine official publication of the orders. The Bureau has identified 19 cases, providing detail on why those individuals lost their citizenship. Almost every case has been on national security grounds.

The new Home Office figures, released in a Freedom of Information request, show the citizenship of 20 people was revoked between January and November 2013. Previously, the highest number of cases in a single year was six.

One of the new cases is that of Iraqi-born Hilal al-Jedda, who recently lost his UK nationality for a second time, weeks after the Supreme Court ruled an earlier attempt was illegal.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'