Thu | Jun 27, 2019

Editorial | Where Windrush and Ms Begum intersect

Published:Tuesday | February 26, 2019 | 12:13 AM

It’s not clear if George Ramocan’s recent call for Britain to halt its deportation of Jamaicans, until publication of the Home Office’s review of the Windrush scandal, was cleared by, and delivered with the full imprimatur of, the foreign ministry in Kingston. In any event, the minister, Kamina Johnson Smith, and the Holness administration, more generally, deserve commendation.

For even if they might not have recognised it at the time, High Commissioner Romocan’s intervention, at a meeting with the families of dozens of people sent back to Jamaica, having served prison sentences, has profound implications beyond their immediate circumstances, especially in the context of the Shamima Begum case.

It goes to the heart of protecting the citizenship rights of Jamaicans in the United Kingdom (UK), and the circumstances under which those rights can be abrogated. Which, essentially, is what the Windrush matter has been about. Shamima Begum is the 19-year-old Britain-born young woman, who at 15, ran away with friends to join Islamic State (IS) jihadist fighters in Syria. With IS nearly routed in Syria and Iraq, and with two of her children dead, Ms Begum now wants to return to Britain with her third child, born a fortnight ago, in a refugee/detention camp near Damascus. The problem for Ms Begum, whose public statements of remorse for IS’s atrocities were equivocal, is that her British citizenship was revoked by the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, himself the son of a Pakistani immigrant. According to Mr Javid, his action was in keeping with his number-one priority of doing “whatever I can to keep this country safe”.

Mr Javid apparently acted under Britain’s 1981 Nationality Act that allows the home secretary to deprive a person of British citizenship if he is satisfied that the action “is conducive to the public good” and that the decision won’t render the person stateless. Ms Begum, like Asif Ahmad, the current British high commissioner to Jamaica, was born to Bangladeshi parents. There is now a legal question of whether Ms Begum, who was born, raised, schooled and radicalised in the UK, has, or is entitled to, Bangladeshi citizenship. The Bangladeshi authorities say no. The issue will, eventually, be sorted out in the British courts.


There are a number of interlocking factors that are likely to have driven Mr Javid’s hard line against Ms Begum, including his own hope to lead the Conservatives and the propulsion from a drumbeat of revenge from the Tory press, which an ambitious first-generation immigrant probably finds irresistible. But as Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London with Indian grandparents, observed, Mr Javid “hasn’t only exposed how unsecure the citizenship rights of people are, he has called into question the very nature of what it means to be a citizen of this country”.

And this is the essence of the argument surrounding the Windrush generation, those Jamaicans and their children, many of whom were born in the UK, or who went to the UK from the colonies, on the presumption of their British citizenship, only to be bundled out several decades later for minor failures and spurious infractions. Or, as is the case of many of those on whose behalf Mr Ramocan advocated, being sent to Jamaica while having only tenuous connections with the island. Very few people care for IS, or support the behaviour of Ms Begum, notwithstanding that her corruption by the terror group started while she was still an impressionable child. But, as Sadiq Khan observed, it is the right, we say obligation, of the “British authorities to properly investigate her and ensure that she faces justice here, too”.

If the Brits can, or are allowed, to play fast and loose with the rights of someone born, bred and nurtured in the UK, then the position staked out by Windrush, where it started, is, at best, ephemeral. That’s why Jamaica should pay attention.