London – CAGE has contacted at least ten British fighters who are in Turkey and who may never be able to return home due to government policy. We urge the government to adjust its anti-terrorism legislation to allow them and others the right to return.
CAGE went into the region to locate returnees in order to assess the true story, rather than rely on tweets. We spoke to fighters who say they would like to be able to return home but don’t feel they can due to hard line the government is taking on returnees.
“It’s going to have a completely reverse effect,” a waiting returnee says of Britain’s new counter-terrorism legislation. “Instead of making Britain safer, you would radicalise a whole generation, especially if you’re pushing them and pushing them into a corner, they are just going to burst and react.”
CAGE urges the government to give these fighters the chance to share the knowledge gained in Syria to contribute to the fight against global injustice, instead of leaving them stranded and vulnerable.
“These are normal average guys, who felt a moral obligation to assist ordinary Syrians against the Assad regime,” said CAGE spokesperson Amandla Thomas-Johnson. There are a little over 100 British men who left the UK to fight against the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad, at a time when this was supported by the British government.
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 the UK.
However, the possibility of violence in the UK – due to a draconian and non-consultative approach to counter-terrorism that relies on blanket measures such as passport revocations and detention without trial – continues to increase.
CAGE reiterates that dialogue, dignity and respect are essential when dealing with returning fighters.
CAGE makes the following recommendations in relation to British fighters in Syria:
“CAGE advocates an approach to returning fighters that allows them an amnesty, the choice to resettle with their families, and access to resettlement programmes such as those set up in Denmark,” says CAGE spokesperson Amandla Thomas-Johnson.
“It is critical that any policy on returnees is formed after consultation with them, instead of hearsay. Policy must be formed based on real life cases, instead of inferences from social media activity.”
“As mentioned by Richard Barrett former MI6 Global Counter Terrorism chief, returnees from Syria have an important role to play in helping reintegrate their peers into society. A domestic policy that ostracises as opposed to integrates will only increase radicalisation.”
“CAGE views amnesty, dialogue, dignity and respect as essential to the way authorities deal with returnees from Syria.”
Moazzam Begg, CAGE Outreach Director, said:
“I was imprisoned with several young British men who’d returned from the fighting in Syria. Instead of being further traumatised and marginalised these men should have been allowed to talk to their peers and explain what they had witnessed and the reasons they returned. The fact that fighters have returned from Syria should work in their favour, not against them.”
Here are statements from individuals who are currently in Turkey:
“I have always planned to stay in the UK since leaving for Syria. But what these laws do is stop me from going back to the country of my birth and upbringing; and so I am against these laws on a matter of principle. I will also like to see my mum and friends once in a while and I can’t with these measures. The government needs to reach out to us and not treat us like criminals straight away.”
“The situation in Britain sounds very similar to the one in Australia where I’m from. I’m settled here now but boy do I miss my family, food and friends. I want to be able to go back even just for a visit because anything can happen to my family and I have to be able to go and help them.”
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