Shamima Begum and the Jamaica 50 prove it – the Britishness of black and Asian people is conditional

Nath Gbikpi
Joseph Nembhard, 38, who arrived in the UK when he was 17, has been split from his partner and children – aged five and eight months – after he was detained and issued deportation orders due to an alleged assault several years ago: Nancy Hurman

Shamima Begum was born and bred in the UK. This is the country where she was groomed and radicalised before joining Isis in Syria. Many of the group which has come to be known as the “Jamaica 50” arrived in the UK as minors (as young as two, five, seven and 11 years old). This is the country where they committed offences – sometimes minor – and were imprisoned.

Their cases are, of course, very different. Begum was a British citizen, whose citizenship was revoked while she was abroad. The Jamaica 50 were Jamaican nationals, who were detained in the UK and scheduled for deportation (thanks to legal action, only 17 were deported). In both cases, however, the British government’s response was the same – “we don’t want you here”.

So far, the law has been on the British government’s side. Begum could be stripped of her citizenship because, according to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, she is also a Bangladeshi citizen, and therefore not rendered stateless. The Jamaica 50 can be deported relying on the immigration rules, which, broadly speaking, mean that anyone convicted of an offence of more than 12 months is liable for deportation. Something being legally correct, however, does not make it morally right.

Before externalising responsibility for those individuals, the government should look at the background of the offences and the offenders. Begum is a British citizen, who was groomed and radicalised aged 15, in the UK. Some of the Jamaica 50 stories are also worth noting. Tayjay arrived in the UK aged five. He was groomed in county lines in the UK, and, aged 19, was sentenced to a drug-related offence for which he was sentenced for 15 months, seven of which he spent in prison. He was released five years ago and has not reoffended since. Reshawn Davis was convicted for robbery 10 years ago under the “joint enterprise” rule, since deemed unlawful, and spent two months in prison. He arrived in the UK aged 11. Others scheduled to be deported grew up in care.

These have to be seen against a context where social exclusion has been found to be linked to radicalisation, and where 30 per cent of second generation migrants feel discriminated against. A context where Bame defendants are consistently more likely to plead not guilty than white defendants, and therefore more likely to face more punitive sentences than if they had admitted guilt, primarily because of a lack of trust in the criminal justice system. A context where within drug offences, the odds of receiving a prison sentence were around 240 per cent higher for those who are Bame. A context where black people are three times more likely to be arrested than white people. A context where local authorities may not realise that some children in their care are entitled to British citizenship, because the rules surrounding British citizenship are so complex. A context where children who are and know to be entitled to British citizenship can still not apply for it because the fees are too expensive.

When looked at this way, the externalisation of responsibility for those individuals can simply not be morally justified.

The response of the government that these individuals are a threat to public security is just not tenable. Many simply can’t be said to pose a threat, having served their sentences, been released from prison, and not having reoffended since. Even for those who do pose a threat to public security, there is a system to protect the public, and it is the criminal justice system. Those who have offended can, and have, been punished by being imprisoned. Begum can, and should, be brought back and trialled here.

Perhaps more importantly, externalising responsibility for these groups is both shortsighted and counterproductive. The message it sends to current and future generations of black and ethnic minorities is that they are second-class citizens who can be deprived of their nationality and who can be deported to countries they have no recollection of. It sends a message that this country is not and never will be their home. It fuels sentiments of marginalisation and distrust in the system which, in turn, may increase risks of radicalisation.

Before externalising responsibility, the UK should look at itself in the mirror and accept its share of the blame. It must respond by tackling systemic racism in the criminal justice system and beyond. It must nurture its citizens, punish them when needed, but then take responsibility for their rehabilitation and ultimately let them know that, if this is the country where they grew up, this is their home. Crucially, it must do so for current as well as future generations of black and ethnic minorities.

Nath Gbikpi is an Immigration solicitor at Wesley Gryk Solicitors

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