Stripping terror suspects of citizenship does not increase national security and may even make it worse, legal experts told a conference on ending statelessness.
They are particularly concerned over the increasing use of the measure by Britain which this year revoked the nationality of “Jihadi bride” Shamima Begum who left London to join the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2015 at the age of 15.
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Britain is also considering the case of British-Canadian Muslim convert Jack Letts who joined ISIS as a teenager and is now being held in a Kurdish-run jail in northern Syria.
“Stripping nationality is a completely ineffective measure – and an arbitrary measure,” said Amal de Chickera, co-founder of the Institute on Statelessness, which is hosting the conference in The Hague.
He said countries should retain responsibility for nationals accused of supporting ISIS and ensure they are prosecuted.
“Stripping nationality when people are abroad merely exports the problem to other countries,” he said, adding such measures were also likely to have a serious impact on families back home.
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Countries should recognize that women married to ISIS fighters, and their children, may have been victimized, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.
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The conference heard that Britain stripped nationality from more than 100 people in 2017, compared to a total of 12 people between 1950 and 2002, but most cases were done quietly.
De Chickera said it was crucial that all countries’ counter-terrorism policies should not result in more people becoming stateless – which means someone is not recognized as a national by any country in the world.
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To avoid making people stateless, Britain has focused on dual nationals.
But Audrey Macklin, a human rights law professor at the University of Toronto, said if all countries had laws to revoke citizenship from dual nationals then you would get a race to see who could do it first “and to the loser goes the citizen.”
“Is this a policy that makes sense as a global practice directed at making the world more secure, at reducing the risk of terrorism? To my mind, not so much,” she said.
She said citizenship was a right rather than a privilege, and described citizenship deprivation followed by expulsion as the “political equivalent of the death penalty.”
The conference comes midway through a UN campaign to end statelessness in a decade. An estimated 10 to 15 million people are stateless worldwide, often deprived of basic rights.
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Jawad Fairooz, a former Bahraini MP who was rendered stateless after being stripped of his nationality in 2012, said revoking citizenship should never be used as a political tool or a punishment.
Bahrain has stripped hundreds of people of nationality since a 2011 uprising although many have since regained citizenship.
“If you lose (citizenship) you lose the rest of your rights,” said Fairooz, chairman of Salam for Democracy & Human Rights.
“If you are born in a country and serve the country and you (are) part of it and quite suddenly your name is deleted from that country it is really heartbreaking.”