Turkey will begin sending foreigners it alleges are members of the Islamic State (ISIS) who are incarcerated in the country back to their home countries from next Monday, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Friday.
“Now we are telling you [notably the European countries] that we are going to send [the ISIS members] back to you. We are starting as of Monday. Eat your heart out [whether you want it or not],” Soylu said in Ankara.
The minister’s threat follows his first comments on November 2 when he said the repatriations would also include those whose European citizenships were revoked, a move that made the detainees legally stateless.
“Countries cannot just revoke the citizenship of such ex-terrorists and expect Turkey to take care of them. This is unacceptable to us and it is also irresponsible. Turkey is not a hotel for foreign terrorists,” the minister told reporters at the time.
On suspicion of links to the ISIS, Turkey reportedly holds nearly 1,200 ISIS foreigners in custody, including 287 captured during its latest incursion into northern Syria.
On October 9 Turkish forces launched an offensive in the region against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which was controlling prisons holding the ISIS fighters.
While Ankara has been repeatedly criticizing European countries for refusing to take back their nationals, the United Kingdom (UK) has stripped more than 100 people of its citizenship on the grounds that they were allegedly members of jihadist groups abroad, including ISIS, al-Qaida, and al-Shabaab.
Last month, two Dutch women who were suspected of being ISIS members and fled a Syrian detention camp during the Turkish operation, demanded the Dutch embassy in Ankara send them back home. The Netherlands, however, swiftly stripped one of the women with dual Dutch-Morrocan citizenship of Dutch nationality.
Under the New York Convention of 1961, which has not been ratified by Britain and France, it is illegal to leave an individual stateless. Therefore, it is still not clear whether Turkey will manage to repatriate those who have lost their citizenship.
For example, some countries request passenger manifests for both military and commercial flights prior to a plane being allowed to enter their airspace.
“On a practical level, I do not see how Turkish authorities can enforce this. I suspect the British government will simply refuse aircraft carrying these individuals,” Shiraz Maher, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, told the Guardian on Friday.
Turkish interior and foreign ministries had not responded to the Guardian’s requests for comment before its report.
Similar to Turkey, US President Donald Trump told LBC late in October that the US had offered to hand the ISIS fighters back to their home governments but they were reluctant to do so.
“We offered to give the ones from the UK back to the UK but they do not want them, we offered France, we offered Germany. They came from your territory and you guys, you know, possibly incredibly smart, but maybe not, you did not want to take them back,” Trump said.
The European countries were letting the US take care of the fighters, an act which was no fair, Trump said.
Among others, last year the US captured the final two members of the terror cell, Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh who allegedly carried out brutal executions in Syria.
These included the killings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid workers David Haines and Alan Henning.