What is a state’s responsibility after its citizen's return from stints with Daesh or other terrorist organisations? For starters, they have to face crucial questions over why their citizens joined in the first place.
Shamima Begum’s name, now sprawled across international news headlines, is symbolic of a massive and unresolved problem – ‘Islamic State’ (Daesh) returnees.
European governments seem steadfast in their decision to reject these individuals. The primary example is that of the United Kingdom’s decision to revoke Begum’s citizenship. The action is problematic for several reasons, some more apparent than others. Predominantly, this stance absolves governments of their responsibility towards and because of their citizens.
This means that namely UK and EU, governments are not held accountable in any aspect for neither the well-being nor the potential punishment, that should be handed down to these individuals. By opting to rescind citizenship, it not only sets a terrible precedent for immigrant, or citizens of immigrant descent, and threatens to further marginalise this already vulnerable group from anti-government sentiment, but also absolves some of the crimes they committed against largely Syrian and Iraqi victims.
Governments are uninterested in these responsibilities and instead are opting for a more “wishful” methodology in dealing with this important and delicate issue. British Minister of International Development Rory Stewart, for one, says, “To be serious about the fact these people are a serious danger to us and, unfortunately, the only way of dealing with them will be, in almost every case, to kill them.”
He’s not alone in his skewed stance.
Florence Parly, French Defence Minister, explains, “If the jihadis perish in this fight, I would say that’s for the best.”
Estimates put the number of French foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria at 1,900 individuals. This makes France the largest exporter of ‘terrorism’ in Europe and rescinds them of the damage their citizens may have done to local victims. Instead, they are unburdening themselves onto the Syrian and Iraqi governments. As such, they too are handing out this punishment, at times punishment by execution, through a proxy.
It is worrying that such senior figures in quintessential democratic states vocally wish extermination, on ultimately, what is a result of poor governance and poorly executed integration policies. This implementation of a pseudo-death sentence must be acknowledged for what it is and as such these propagators of human rights must be held accountable for these implications.
But it is, in fact, their initial integration policies, which at the very least, affected these individuals to join such a heinous cause. The marginalisation faced in what is likely their country of birth is usually down to social and economic discrimination. This includes chiefly structural racism affecting employment rates and access to education, amongst other factors. The social stratification in these respective states is apparent and well documented, as such, it is the responsibility of the country to answer for the part they have played.
It displays fear and weakness of belief in their own reintegration strategies, which many states have devised in one form or another because, despite the theatrical rejection of Begum, some fighters have already returned.
According to research from The Soufan Group, in the UK 425 fighters have returned from Iraq and Syria while a further 400 remain there. In France, 271 have returned, of which 54 are children.
A newer report indicates that France has decided a shift in policy to repatriate an additional 120 to 130 former fighters. Why, then, does one group of Islamic State (Daesh) former fighters receive preferential treatment over a woman who claims to have been only a housewife and a mother? Is it because she is the only one who has received this much media attention?
A Belgian academic, Pieter Van Ostaeyen, working on the subject says, “The general sentiment in northern Europe is we don't want these people back, but I don't think anyone has thought about the alternatives.”
This may be why the governments are not receiving the necessary public scrutiny because the large majority are in agreement. If the public agrees with the decision to disown their counterparts, no pressure will be felt by governments to act or be transparent with their actions.
In addition, high-profile cases such as Begum’s bring into question the reasons she left in the first place, facts that Western governments do not want to face. Societies as a whole must introspect on their faults, the faults that radicalised so many of their immigrant citizens.
Western governments must be held accountable for their citizen’s actions and not permitted to merely disown crimes their citizens committed against Syrian, Iraqi, and Palestinian communities in the region.
A system of rehabilitation must already be in place considering that some former fighters have already returned. The details must be brought to the forefront of public discussion on the faults of their initial integration policies and how they must be improved upon. But most crucially, those guilty must be held liable for the deaths they have caused in Iraq and Syria, and should the EU, and the UK be so keen on the death penalty, implement it on their own sovereign territory – not outsource the responsibility and absolve themselves in the process.
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