British aid worker stranded in Syria brands UK government “racist”

Tauqir Sharif in Syria

The British aid worker Tauqir Sharif has accused the government of “racism” and “Islamophobia” over the way it is rendering British aid workers and activists stateless through the use of citizenship deprivation powers.

Sharif, who is from East London, moved to Syria seven years ago with his wife and currently works for an aid distribution charity in Idlib which is controlled by anti-regime activists and fighters. He was stripped of his British citizenship in 2017 by then Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

He told CAGE: “Since 2012, I’ve been in Syria along with my wife and children, delivering life saving aid to internally displaced people and refugees. I am motivated by my desire to help others.

“Two years ago, I was shocked to learn that my government had decided to revoke my citizenship, simply because I’m a Muslim child of migrant parents and no doubt due to my history of aid work, which has taken me from Palestine to Pakistan and Syria.

“I’m being treated as a second class citizen by my own government. This is just pure racism and Islamophobia, and a violation of the values of justice I thought the UK respected.”

Citizenship deprivation laws give unfettered powers to the Home Secretary to deprive individuals of their citizenship if their presence in the country is deemed “not conducive to the public good.”

Any appeals are conducted through the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), where the normal rules of natural justice are abrogated by the extensive use of secret evidence.

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Daniel Furner of Birnberg Peirce and Partners who is representing Tauqir Sharif said: “What troubles me most about these cases is the almost total absence of reasons, or explanation, for stripping a person of their citizenship. It’s hard to think of a more serious step to take, and yet in this case we have about two lines of text, explaining why they have taken Mr Sharif’s citizenship away.

“If they would tell us why they think that, we would have some chance to rebut it – but as it is, we are left with nothing. How are we supposed to defend him in those circumstances?”

CAGE Spokesperson Cerie Bullivant added: “We must push back against this racist and abusive citizen deprivation process. Cases like Tauqir’s reveal how the government and right-wing lobbyists are exploiting ‘War on Terror’ rhetoric to influence the judiciary in ways that violate due process norms and punish humanitarian workers.

“We have been documenting cases like this for years, but these stories seldom find traction in the media. This is because human rights organisations have failed to recognise how War on Terror violations such as these set dangerous precedents that will eventually affect everybody, not just Muslims.”

In 2017, the Home Office removed Sharif’s British citizenship, saying it had seen secret intelligence and believed he had links to a group aligned with al-Qaeda. Mr Sharif denies the links and calls the decision “unfair” and “racist.”

The Home Office says any decision to deprive someone of their citizenship was based “on all available evidence and not taken lightly.”

As Mr Sharif is entitled to Pakistani nationality through his father, the UK government is allowed to deprive him of his British citizenship as he would not become stateless.

Mr Sharif’s wife is British, as are their five children who have all been born in Syria since they moved there. The couple have been unable to obtain passports for their children.

A Home Office letter to Mr Sharif said he was deprived of his citizenship because “it is assessed that you are a British/Pakistani dual national who has travelled to Syria and is aligned to an AQ (al-Qaeda) aligned group… your return to the UK would present a risk to the national security of the United Kingdom.”

The letter added: “My decision has been taken in part reliance on information which, in my opinion, should not be made public in the interest of national security.”

Mr Sharif is appealing against the decision and had until recently been granted anonymity by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission – the semi-secret court which decides on national security immigration cases.

He has chosen to waive his rights to anonymity in order to tell his story.

Around 150 dual nationals have had their British citizenship removed by the Home Office to date.

Recently, Shamima Begum – the London teenager who fled the UK to join the Islamic State group in Syria but now wants to come home – had her British citizenship taken away by the government.

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