Turkey has vowed to make good on its promise to send foreign Islamic State fighters back to their home countries as soon as Monday, warning European nations that it does not matter whether the former militants are welcome at home or not.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Friday that militants captured during its military incursion in northern Syria – where many former IS fighters were being held in prisons after being captured by Kurdish forces – would be repatriated.
Turkey has long criticised its European allies for refusing to take back Islamic State fighters who are their citizens, and claimed that it will send them back even if their citizenship has been revoked.
“We are telling them: ‘We’ll repatriate these people to you’, and we are starting as of Monday,” Soylu said.
Reached by Euronews on Saturday, a Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said “less than 5” Belgian fighters – men and women – were currently detained by Turkish authorities.
“A strong, tested bilateral procedure fully involving Belgian authorities and Turkey exists for the repatriation to Belgium of fighters arrested on Turkish soil. We assume that this procedure will be used,” the spokesperson told Euronews.
“The timing is in the hands of Turkish authorities,” the spokesperson added.
The acknowledgement that European jihadists will likely be repatriated from Turkey to their home countries contrasts with comments made just last week to Euronews when the policy was first announced.
At the time, representatives of both the British and Belgian governments repeated that the militants should remain in Syria and Iraq to face trial.
It is the second time that Soylu has made his threat. On November 3, he warned that Turkey was “not a hotel” for captured militants and accused Britain, France and Belgium that expecting the authorities in Turkey to deal with the former militants alone was irresponsible.
All three nations have argued that IS fighters should face justice in Syria and Iraq, where their crimes were committed, while Britain has stripped dozens of former militants of their citizenship.
In a written statement, a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said: “Our priority is the safety and security of the UK and the people who live here.
“Those who have fought for or supported Daesh should wherever possible face justice for their crimes in the most appropriate jurisdiction, which will often be in the region where their offences have been committed.”
The Belgian Foreign Ministry at the time said the country’s position was to seek trial for IS fighters “near the place where they committed their crimes.”
“This must imperatively be done in fair conditions and in compliance with international law. Discussions are continuing and Belgium remains convinced that this is the solution that minimizes the risks for our society while respecting the rights of the defendant,” a ministry spokesman said.
It remains to be seen whether Turkey could actually return IS prisoners to their home countries against the will of their home governments.
Although Britain, for example, has stripped fighters with dual nationality of their citizenship, it is against international law to make an individual stateless, so those with sole nationality should theoretically remain British citizens and – ultimately – the responsibility of the British government.