The problem of returning jihadists

European countries have to provide a swift solution to the problem of returning citizens from Middle Eastern battlefronts. At the height of the Syrian civil war, thousands of citizens have fled from Europe to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces.

Today, the situation has entirely changed in the Middle East, with ISIS forces pinned down in a small piece of land across eastern Syria. It is a matter of time before the Russian-Syrian and the U.S.-Kurdish coalitions manage to defeat the remaining ISIS strongholds in the region and imprison the last jihadist militias.  This development has instigated a mass exodus of former ISIS militias and their families from the Middle East, disguised as refugees and economic migrants.

The U.S. President Donald Trump called the European allies to accept the return of former ISIS militias and their families back in the continent. The U.S. President claimed that upon their successful return to Europe, these people could be imprisoned on the grounds of terrorist activity overseas. According to French media, Syrian military camps have detained more than 800 ISIS fighters coming from Europe, 700 women and 1.500 children. The majority of these citizens originate from Britain, Germany and mostly France.

Most European governments have not only expressed their unwillingness to receive these citizens back but have also declared their intention to strip returnees of their nationality. The practical issues stemming from the handling of unwanted citizens destabilises not only the war-torn region of the Middle East but also the international community as a whole. In case European governments carry out their threats and strip citizens of their nationality status, the captured militias and their families would be deserted in the Middle East and framed as stateless persons. Nonetheless, there is no legal provision in the contemporary international law about the treatment of stateless persons.

This is only one of the practical issues stemming from the question of return for these people. The German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas argued on Sunday that the return and trialling of these people under German laws is an improbable phenomenon given that German authorities do not have concrete judicial evidence that these people participated in overseas terrorist activities – other than being members of ISIS militia groups.

The French government faces similar operational dilemmas. The French Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Agnes Von Der Muhll sustained that Paris takes all the necessary steps to ensure that these citizens do not return back in French soil but also do not escape conviction and imprisonment while staying in Middle Eastern encampments. France is the most affected European representative of returning jihadists, given the volume of people defecting since early 2011 to the Middle East.

Britain is also embroiled into a similar situation, with the Shamima Begum case being a hotly debated topic in the public realm. Mrs. Begum fled to Syria with her Muslim husband since 2015. Mrs. Begum lost her husband and first child in the battlefield while last week admitted her intention to return to Britain and give the recently-born second child a British nationality status. Still, Mrs. Begum has pleaded for return even though admitted no remorse for joining ISIS forces. The British government considers of stripping Mrs. Begum’s nationality status.

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