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Abandoned in Syria: The British mother whose citizenship was stripped without warning

Stuck in a detention camp in Syria, British mother Sara explains how she only learnt that her citizenship had been revoked over a year after it happened by chance because the UK government failed to inform her. Sara, whose name has been changed, spoke to The Independent from Roj, a sprawling and ramshackle camp in the desert in northeast Syria.

The British government is drafting a contentious bill that would enable the UK to revoke someone’s citizenship without notifying them in a range of circumstances. This trend and proposed legal change have sparked alarm among activists, NGOs and British lawmakers who say that the UK should take responsibility for its citizens rather than leave them in limbo abroad. In the case of Syria, many women and girls there were groomed online and are victims of trafficking who need support, they say.

Global rights group Reprieve, which is assisting people like Sara, wants the UK to bring these individuals home – even if that means they end up facing trial on terror charges. Sara, who is so frail she struggles to walk, says she only found out about her citizenship being revoked this year because her family in the UK by chance checked, and then phoned her with the news.

Reprieve says the bill is unnecessary and calculated to inflict “maximum harm and trauma” on the person, their children, and their families. “In practice, what is and is not ‘practicable’ will be at the whim of the home secretary. Priti Patel can already take away all the rights that come with your British passport with a vague nod to the ‘public interest’,” Reprieve’s Director Maya Foa said, describing stripping of citizenship as “an outrageous abdication of government responsibility to protect British citizens”.

“[Ms Patel] now wants to be able to do so without even posting a letter to your last known UK address. That it is not ‘practicable’ to send notice in the mail stretches credulity to the limit.”

Reprieve argues that it effectively removes the right to appeal because the deadline to lodge one is likely to run out before the individual becomes aware they are no longer British. The group believes the proposed law change would be even more problematic in the cases of the women who have been detained for their alleged Isis connections in Syria.

A Reprieve report published this year said that 63 per cent of them – including Shamima Begum who was groomed online aged just 15 – were victims of human trafficking. “The government is making no distinction between potential victims of trafficking and people who may have committed crimes,” Foa said, adding that it could open the door for trafficking by terrorist groups in the future.

“It is unthinkable that our response to this issue is to abandon British families to die in the desert or worse.” Read the full story in The Independent.