Can repatriation actually be done?
The Shamima Begum case has been one that has sparked a huge controversy in the U.K. For those who don’t know, Shamima Begum was one of three teens who snuck out one night in 2015 and flew to Syria to join ISIS. Cut to four years later: recently, she requested that she be allowed to return to the U.K. so she can raise her child safely, as ISIS is falling and her husband is in captivity. She also said she had no regrets for joining ISIS and wasn’t fazed by seeing severed heads. In response to this, the British government revoked her U.K. citizenship, but she will also not be allowed into Bangladesh since she does not have dual citizenship. In other words, she is stateless.
The only reason I could say she should be allowed back is that she was a British citizen when she left, and she is Britain’s problem, rather than any other country’s problem. She should face trial, and her child should be taken in by child protective services and given a chance to have a normal life. Leaving her stateless by taking away her citizenship is illegal, and it is unfair to just try and leave her to be someone else’s problem for the sake of pandering to right-wing stances. But the Begum case also brings up another question: is repatriating someone who joined a terrorist organization even possible in the first place?
I have been torn on this case. I thoroughly believe in being innocent until proven guilty, but that would imply that joining a terrorist organization isn’t a crime. That then leads to the question of whether joining a terrorist organization should be illegal or not. In the U.S., it is illegal due to a provision in the Patriot Act, but under U.K. law, it isn’t officially illegal. However, if she is allowed back to the U.K., she would face trial and likely be immediately incarcerated anyway. There is also the case to be made that perhaps she is a victim of circumstance. She was a child when she was radicalized, and her formative years were spent in a warzone being brainwashed. At that point, I drew the line. She knew what she was doing, so to say that she is a victim is pretty nonsensical. After a lot of deliberation, I concluded that her repatriation isn’t possible, and in general, repatriation of anyone who joined a terrorist organization isn’t feasible.
As far as criminal justice goes, I am a firm believer in rehabilitation and second chances rather than outright punishment. Repatriation would fall under this second-chance policy, but there are many issues with it. First, even if the individual hasn’t participated in any crimes themselves, they still joined an organization that is responsible for heinous crimes and is considered a foreign threat. So, in some sense, it is aiding and abetting, although it is for crimes committed in another country. Second, it is very difficult to judge whether someone actually committed a crime or not in the first place, beyond just joining. In a recent development, Begum’s husband said that he kept her as sheltered as possible from everything, but that contradicts Begum’s own claim of saying she isn’t fazed by seeing severed heads.
At the end of it all, I don’t think that those asking for repatriation are threats to national security or anything of the sort. I do believe that they could even be functioning members of society again if they were fully allowed back. But, those who joined made a choice, and knew that there was no turning back from their decision. Both Begum and her husband gave up their passports when they joined ISIS. Their choice should have consequences, and there shouldn’t be any sympathy for them if they realized they made a mistake by joining ISIS. Those who are being radicalized should see this as a message. They should know what they are getting themselves into. They are free to do that, but they shouldn’t expect forgiveness for making a bad decision.