Europe should repatriate foreign fighters

Europe should repatriate foreign fighters

Now that the war against ISIL has been largely won and that the jihadist terrorists have been pushed out of nearly all the territory it controlled in the region, a long-time lingering question on how the problems regarding the thousands of foreign fighters would be resolved has once again come to the fore, particularly after the Turkish military offensive into northeastern Syria that has drastically changed power balances in that region.

The widespread concerns that the Turkish operation against the YPG presence along its borders would pave the way for the massive breakout of the ISIL jihadists kept at 14 makeshift prisons and thousands of their family members from the camps have not been materialized. Some women and children have reportedly fled the camp in al-Hol and in one case, in Tal Abyad, prisoners have been freed by the YPG after the Turkish army and the Syrian opposition groups launched the operation.

Turkish officials informed that 265 of them have been arrested and necessary legal and administrative procedures are being implemented. These fighters have been transported to prisons in the west part of the Euphrates under the control of the Turkish army.

In a statement on this matter, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu slammed European nations for showing reluctance in taking back their nationals. “Turkey is not a hotel for ISIL members of any country,” he said, harshly criticizing those nations for revoking the citizenships of their fighters to prevent their return.

The phenomenon of foreign fighters in the Syrian context dates to mid-2012, in the very early days of the jihadist grouping in different parts of Syria. It became a major problem by 2013 as ISIL began to storm a wide territory in the eastern Syria and western Iraq where it later declared the Islamic Caliphate, a move that attracted thousands of Sunnis and extremists from Muslim and European nations.

All these foreign terrorist fighters did not just commit horrible crimes in Syria and Iraq, but also held dozens of deadly terrorist attacks in their origin countries. Turkey, France and Belgium are just a few countries that suffered most from these attacks that claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent people.

That’s why the Global Coalition Against DAESH, an Arabic acronym for the ISIL, decided to set up a working group on foreign terrorist fighters, co-led by the Netherlands, Turkey and the United States.

Turkey, seen as a transit point used most frequently by these fighters, has developed tangible measures for stopping the inflow of these terrorists with the cooperation of all their countries of origin, despite various problems in terms of intelligence sharing.

At the point that we arrived at, there are around 2,000 ISIL members kept in the prisons, with 60,000 women and children. Because of a long-standing inaction of the European countries, the problem has now become much more complicated and difficult to resolve.

Many European nations announced that they will revoke the citizenships of these fighters and will never let them return to their countries of origin. Some countries argue that their courts have no jurisdiction over crimes committed overseas. Even if they accept and prosecute these people, lack of sufficient evidence would create a challenge for keeping these people behind bars. Another challenge would be the reintegration of these fighters and their families into their societies.

One idea is to prosecute them at a special chamber under the Iraqi judicial roof where the death penalty would not be applied. If no action is taken now, all these foreign fighters would go under the control of the Syrian regime in the case of Damascus and the YPG, in which they came to an agreement over the status of eastern Syria in the coming period. Obviously, it will be much harder for Europe to deal with the situation as Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad will gain an important bargaining chip against them.

That’s to say, it’s time for Europeans to make a decision on this very multidimensional and difficult matter. Most experts agree that the repatriation constitutes the best effective and moral way in handling this situation. Revoking the citizenships of these people and pretending that it’s not their own problem display a shortsighted and immoral approach.

Shortsighted, because many of these foreign fighters were born and radicalized in their countries of origin and neighborhoods and as the ideological war against these extremists have not yet been won, there is still a risk of jihadist resurgence everywhere in the world. Immoral, because human rights and rule of law, under any condition, should prevail.