A British humanitarian worker in Syria has condemned a decision by the UK government to revoke his citizenship as "racist" and contrary to British values.
Tauqir Sharif, 31, from Walthamstow, who lives and works in the northern-province of Idlib alongside his British wife, Racquell Hayden-Best, had his citizenship revoked in May 2017, with the UK government alleging he was "aligned to an AQ [Al-Qaeda] aligned groups", citing secret evidence that they refused to disclose.
In a letter from the Home Office, British authorities argue that the London-born humanitarian was eligible for Pakistani citizenship through his father, such that the decision to revoke his citizenship would not render him stateless.
However Sharif, who was born and brought up in the UK, insists he has only ever been an aid worker for the seven years he's been in Syria; he currently runs 41 projects for refugees and internally displaced Syrians, employing some 170 staff.
"We are a well-established organisation on the ground. Syrian people see the value in our work and love us," he told reporters. "I have never aligned myself with any group involved in the conflict or taken part in any operation that is not related to my aid work. I no longer carry an assault rifle as we now have security, so I only need my handgun."
Although Sharif's wife has not been stripped of her citizenship, the couple's five children born outside the UK have not been issued British passports, despite dozens of appeals made to the authorities.
The humanitarian, who is also a survivor of the raid on the Mavi Marmara aid flotilla by Israeli forces, said that the differential treatment experienced by him and his wife were indicative of the biased attitude of UK authorities towards citizens of foreign origin.
"I feel I have a duty to the British public because I believe these laws go against British values," he told reporters. "We now have a two-tier hierarchy in Britain where we have people who are British and then people who are sub-British: immigrants, naturalised citizens, or the children of immigrants."
News of Sharif's case comes amid heightened scrutiny on British nationals in Syria, with Home Secretary Sajid Javid stripping teenager Shamima Begum, who travelled to Syria to join Daesh, of her citizenship last month.
"People like Shamima Begum and 'Jihadi Jack' are not helping our situation. The government is trying to paint a picture that the only people who are having their citizenship revoked are ISIS [Daesh] and that is completely not true," he said. "I am not incarcerated. I am not begging to come home. I am not speaking under any duress, and I am not speaking because the so-called caliphate fell."
Daniel Furner, a lawyer at Birnberg Peirce and Partners who is representing Sharif, said there was a "total absence of reasons, or explanation" as to why he had been targeted.
"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?" he told MEE.
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 – but chose to waive his rights to anonymity in order to tell his story.
However he now fears that under the new Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, Idlib will be designated a no-go zone for British nationals, making it a criminal offence to be present in the area.
"Unfortunately, this is the narrative," Sharif said. "Every person who goes to [Syria] is a terrorist. That saddens me. It's naive to think that Syria is no more than ISIS [Daesh] or Al-Qaeda. There are six million innocent, normal people having their families killed and slaughtered."