(London, UK) CAGE has argued in its report Blowback – foreign fighters and the threat they pose, that there is no empirical evidence to suggest that blowback from Syria or Iraq will occur in Britain. However, the possibility of violence in the UK – largely due to long-standing grievances over foreign and domestic policy – still remains. CAGE advocates that the following steps be taken in order to keep the UK safe and avoid community tensions being unnecessarily inflamed:
1. Returning fighters from Syria should be allowed to return to the UK and be granted an amnesty. However, where police have found clear evidence of war crimes, then those crimes should be prosecuted accordingly.
It is important to remember that most of the few hundred young men that have travelled to Syria over the last few years travelled there in order to fight Bashar al-Assad as part of the rebel movement that was supported by the British government. They should not be stigmatised as terrorists by virtue of their going out there.
CAGE’s amnesty call follows reports that Britons who have fought in Syria/Iraq are stuck in Turkey in a limbo: fleeing from a war they no longer feel is for them, but afraid to travel onto Britain lest they be immediately imprisoned.
2. UK’s commitment to peace and toward ensuring the safety of its own citizens, means that it should handle this matter sensitively and refrain from implementing blanket measures i.e. imprisoning or putting all returnees under control orders, passport revocations. A considered approach is essential here.
3. As with soldiers returning from conflict abroad, it is likely that returnees may experience PTSD or other conditions, and so programmes ought to be offered to help them reintegrate into society. This should be led by members of the Muslim community, and should be as independent as possible. Any such programmes should not have a criminalisation element, but rather should be more pastoral.
A programme set up in Denmark that takes a ‘soft-hands approach’, though not perfect, is along the right track. Rather than criminalise fighters, the programme treats any psychological trauma or physical injuries, and helps them find work or restart studies.
4. A mandatory de-radicalisation programme that focuses on the ‘theology’ and ‘ideology’ of participants will only antagonise and will do nothing to actually reintegrate returnees. This has already been proven by the failure of PREVENT, the current counter-terrorism policy that has failed to eradicate the domestic ‘terrorist’ threat. There must be a move away from PREVENT-based strategies as this will stoke further tensions and not lead to positive results.
5. As mentioned by Richard Barrett, former MI6 Global Counter-terrorism chief, returnees from Syria themselves have a key role to play in helping re-integrate their peers. Imprisoning or ostracising them will make it difficult for them to co-operate at efforts to resolve conflict and keep the peace.
6. CAGE views dialogue, dignity and respect essential to the way authorities deal with returnees from Syria. This will keep Britain safe and allow returnees from Syria/Iraq to safely slip back into society.
(CC image courtesy of Global Panorama on flikr)
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)