Turkey will send captured Islamic State members back to their countries, even if their citizenships have been revoked, Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu has said. On Saturday 2 November, he criticised European states for not repatriating imprisoned IS members in Turkey. The remarks come after a visit to Turkey by António Gutteres, the UN secretary-general, on Friday.
“We are not a hotel for IS members from any country,” Interior Minister Soylu said.
Soylu’s remarks were directed at several countries – including the Netherlands, Denmark and the United Kingdom – which have moved to strip dual national IS members of their citizenship or refused to repatriate them. Shamima Begum, 19, who fled to Syria from east London four years ago, had her British citizenship revoked after a controversial decision made by the Home Secretary in February.
European states have been wary of repatriating their citizens who went to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq, fearing a political backlash, complications with gathering evidence to convict them and the risk of extremist attacks at home.
“We will send back those in our hands, but the world has come up with a new method now: revoking their citizenships,” Soylu said. “They are saying they should be tried where they have been caught. This is a new form of international law, I guess.”
The Interior Minister said Turkey had nearly 1,200 foreign members of ISIS in custody and had captured 287 during its recent operation in northeast Syria aimed at clearing the border region from Kurdish fighters it considers “terrorists”.
In addition to those imprisoned in Turkey, Syrian Kurdish forces are holding around 11,000 IS fighters in prisons in northeast Syria, along with tens of thousands of women and children family members. Around one-fifth of the IS fighters imprisoned by Syrian Kurdish forces in northeast Syria are believed to be European.
Turkey has repeatedly called on European countries to take back their citizens fighting for the group and has accused the SDF of releasing ISIS prisoners amid the recent offensive.
Turkey’s resettling plans
António Gutteres, the UN secretary-general, visited Turkey on 1 November to meet President Erdoğan and discuss Ankara’s plans to resettle at least a million Syrians in the “safe zone” that it is carving out of northeastern Syria.
The proposal has been met with dismay from human rights groups, who say that forced resettlements would be illegal because most of the 3.6 million Syrians living in Turkey are scared to return to an area where President Assad’s forces are present.
The Syrian Kurds, meanwhile, accuse Mr Erdoğan of trying to carry out ethnic engineering by replacing the Kurdish population along the Turkish border with Arabs. More than 200,000 people, most of them Kurds, fled their homes as Turkey launched an offensive in northeastern Syria last month.
Erdoğan warned, before launching Turkey’s military incursion against Kurdish forces in northern Syria formerly allied with the US in the fight against Islamic State, that he planned to resettle 2 million people in a “safe zone” along the border.
Mr Guterres said that the UN would study Mr Erdoğan’s proposals but also stressed the “basic principles relating to the voluntary, safe and dignified of return of refugees”.
The Turkish president has recently revived his threats to open his country’s borders and allow a new surge of refugees to travel to Europe should Brussels not support his plan. He also claims that the EU has still not handed over the €6 billion promised to Turkey under the 2016 refugee deal. €5.8 billion of the funding has so far been allocated to refugee projects in Turkey, and €2.4 billion distributed.
“Hey EU, wake up. I say it again: if you try to frame our operation there as an invasion, our task is simple: we will open the doors and send 3.6 million migrants to you,” Erdogan said in a speech to parliament on Thursday 10 October.
About 5,000 illegal migrants have been detained in Turkey over the past week amid a new surge in people trafficking to the EU.
Turkish military offensive
Turkey launched an offensive against the Kurdish-led SDF over its southern border on 9 October, a move widely condemned by the international community for triggering a humanitarian disaster, opening a new front in Syria’s complex war and risking the re-emergence of Isis, which lost control of its final slivers of territory in March.
Turkey’s advance into northern Syria has led to the displacement of about 200,000 people. There have been concerns in Christian villages about possible atrocities committed by fighters backed by Ankara, some of whom are former jihadists.
In October, IOHR talked to Qamishli resident Farhad Hussein about life in northeastern Syria under the offensive, how it has affected his daily life, and what he thinks of the deal struck between Kurdish forces and the Syrian government.