The motivation for this question is the recent US travel ban on foreigners entering the country from Schengen area countries, which is due to expand to include the UK and Ireland on Tuesday, and the general climate of countries being locked down or quarantined.

President Trump's proclamation does not apply to US citizens; the travel restrictions only apply to aliens, with several exceptions such as lawful permanent residents, and spouses of residents & citizens. This exemption is one of the reasons that the measure has come under fire as "ineffective" and "politically motivated".

However, I am reminded of the case of the ISIS bride Shamima Begum, who was stripped of her British citizenship by the Home Secretary in 2019, in order to prevent her return to the UK.

That being said, does international law obligate nations to allow their citizens entry to their own country, or are these provisions specific to the UK and the US, and potentially other countries?

  • Worth pointing out that in the example case, the ability to strip UK citizenship is only possible if that doesn't leave the person stateless.
    – mcalex
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 4:24
  • @mcalex only possible due to what? A existing UK law, or something else?
    – bobsburner
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 12:03
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    @bobsburner The article references 'international law' prohibiting making a person stateless. This suggests agreements with UN covenants (as per o.m.'s answer) which would be ratified somewhere in UK legislation. So UK law binding the UK to UN (international) law
    – mcalex
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 12:35
  • 2
    @mcalex surely it's also worth pointing out that neither Begum nor the government of Bangladesh accepts the UK's claim that Begum is a Bangladeshi citizen.
    – Chris H
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 15:53
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    Well, yeah, but that's legal argy-bargy. My point was that if it was someone without any other (real or via a twisted legal argument) nationality 'possibilities' then the UK doesn't have the power to remove citizenship
    – mcalex
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 19:03

1 Answer 1


The ability to return to your country is considered a human right, Article 13(2) of the declaration of human rights and also Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

But cases of quarantine are one of the emergencies where freedom of movement may be restricted. So nations must eventually let their citizens enter, but they can take quite drastic steps for public health.

Stripping people of their citizenship is an entirely different matter. This is where UDHR Article 15 and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness come in. Again the prohibition is not absolute, see e.g. Article 8(2).

  • 5
    There's also no requirement that your country of citizenship allows you to travel freely within its borders, just that it allows you in. So at least for the purpose of international convention a country would be not be in violation if it required its citizens returning from particular countries to be detained for quarantine. Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 19:33
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    @IllusiveBrian your comment is incorrect. Article 13(1) of the declaration requires that each country grant its own citizens (and everyone else) freedom of movement and residence within its borders. The same is true of Article 12 of the covenant. The real reasons that people can be detained for quarantines is that the right of free movement, like all rights, can be curtailed for legitimate purposes. Public health is one of those purposes. This is explicit in Article 12(3) of the covenant.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 15, 2020 at 22:53
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    @Fizz it would also be improved by noting that the practical effect of prohibiting something in international law is in most cases negligible. The declaration of human rights, for example, has no force of law.
    – phoog
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 2:59
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    @phoog, that would have to be added to half the answers there. I think it is much more significant that even as written the conventions allow for quarantines.
    – o.m.
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 5:27
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    @phoog: The UDHR has no force of law, because the UN is weak. The ECHR is another matter; it's accepted law in the EU. (Despite not being an EU treaty per se)
    – MSalters
    Commented Mar 16, 2020 at 13:01

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