Europeans Remain Divided Over Daesh Returnees as Turkey Launches Repatriation Campaign

CC0 / / A woman wearing a hijab
A woman wearing a hijab - Sputnik International
Europe is currently expecting to receive several Daesh* fighters that were previously held in Turkey following their capture, with Ankara announcing this month that it would not act as “a hotel for foreign terrorists” anymore and would begin repatriating them to their states of origin.

Germany arrested a 21-year-old female Daesh suspect accused of being a member of terrorist group upon her return home on Friday, federal prosecutors confirmed. The news came following an announcement by Turkish authorities last week that they would begin repatriating foreign-born suspected Daesh fighters previously held in Turkish prison camps, regardless of whether their countries of origin would be willing to accept them.

Germany remains divided on the issue of whether the country should accept returnees, as Turkey is expected to send more alleged Daesh militants to Berlin in the next couple of days.

Berlin has so far not been very hesitant in accepting some alleged Daesh supporters, with authorities insisting that a recently returned German-Iraqi family that travelled to Syria about a year ago “did not take part in the fighting” and was not a “serious case”, according to interior policy spokesman for Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Armin Schuster. But many opposition leaders, including deputy leader of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) Stephan Thomae, have accused Merkel’s government of procrastination and failing to solve the issue prior to the fighters being repatriated.

© AFP 2023 / DELIL SOULEIMANWomen walk at a camp for Daesh* group-affiliated people in the northern Syrian village of Malikiya near the border with Turkey, walks with a child on September 29, 2018.
Europeans Remain Divided Over Daesh Returnees as Turkey Launches Repatriation Campaign - Sputnik International
Women walk at a camp for Daesh* group-affiliated people in the northern Syrian village of Malikiya near the border with Turkey, walks with a child on September 29, 2018.

Dr Ardian Shajkovci, a counter-terrorism researcher, lecturer and security analyst, with field research experience in the Middle East, Western Europe, the Balkans, and Central Asia believes that the “seriousness” of the threat that deported fighters could pose upon returning should be established by “law enforcement and legal authorities” by means of a thorough assessment of their “explicit or tacit support for ISIS”. He also stated that authorities should be engaged in a “case-by-case assessment” of individuals to determine their “individual responsibility” for crimes while in Iraq or Syria, but emphasised that foreign fighters’ repatriation “remains the most feasible alternative”.

“Repatriation and domestic trials remain the most viable alternative to successful prosecutions and delivery of justice at home”, Dr Shajkovci said, insisting that many European governments have been monitoring the activities of Daesh returnees and terrorist group-affiliated suspects, serving as a better alternative than simply preventing them from returning to their home countries, the expert says.

“European governments have already instituted a number of rehabilitation and disengagement programmes to deal with convicts both while in prison and upon their release”, Dr Shajkovci added.

Despite Europe now having little choice but to accept Daesh fighters and suspects linked to the terrorist group, there is scepticism among experts and politicians that the returnees will be able to integrate into not only European society, but even into the prison system if they are arrested upon their return.

Honourary Senator of the Brussels Parliament Dr Alain Destexhe stands by the point that it would be “very difficult to integrate” ex-Daesh fighters into European society and that it would be better if they remain in prisons in Iraq or Syria.

“It's going to be a nightmare if they return”, Dr Destexhe said, noting that he does not believe in deradicalisation programmes.

The senator, who has served as the president of the International Crisis Group, also pointed out that it would be logistically difficult to allocate all the returning individuals in European prisons due to their “bad influence” and the possibility of “contamination” of other Muslim prisoners.

According to official estimates, around 5,000 Europeans (3,700 from the UK, Belgium, France and Germany alone) left for Syria and Iraq to join Daesh following the group’s military offensive in 2014. Many of them (around 1,200) have already been accepted back by their home states, and thousands more are expected to come.

Most European countries have been unwilling to accept captured foreign-born terrorists, with Danish authorities stripping the fighters of their citizenship. However, Sweden and Norway have said that they are ready to accept the returnees, but noted that some of them may face trial upon their return.

More Terrorists to Come?

Last week, Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu announced that Ankara would begin sending dozens of captured Daesh fighters back to their countries of origin, including the US, Great Britain, and Germany.

For his part, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated that Ankara would go ahead with deporting the fighters regardless of whether their home countries would be willing to accept them. He estimated that Ankara has deported around 7,500 Daesh terrorist so far, with around 1,200 foreign-born fighters from the group still remaining in Turkish prisons, some of whom were captured during Ankara’s recent Operation Peace Spring in north-eastern Syria that it launched against Kurdish militants and Daesh terrorists.

Tens of thousands of suspected Daesh fighters are also believed to be held in prison camps across north-eastern Syria, having been captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), with many of them holding European passports.

* Daesh (ISIL/ISIS/IS/Islamic State) is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other states. 

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