Turkey has started repatriating detained suspected Islamic State (ISIS) fighters and vowed to return more of them, most of whom are from European nations.
An interior ministry official told Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber on Monday that the deportations started with three captives, a German, a Dane and an American,with over 20 people, including 11 French, 10 German and two Irish nationals, still in line to be deported in the coming days, the ministry spokesman Ismail Catakli said.
“Efforts to identify the nationalities of foreign fighters captured in Syria have been completed, with their interrogations, 90% finished and the relevant countries notified,” Catakli said, without providing any further detail on how and how many detainees would be sent back home.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that there were 1,201 people held in Turkish custody on suspicion of links to ISIS, 287 of whom were captured during Turkey’s latest incursion into northern Syria between October 9 and 22.
The Turkish offensive in the region was against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which was controlling prisons holding the ISIS fighters. Many were reported to have escaped from the prisons during the clashes.
Turkey aims to send around 2,500 militants back to their home countries, most of which are European Union (EU) states, TRT Haber said on Monday.
There were 813 militants at 12 deportation centers, according to the channel.
“The process for returning foreign terrorist fighters will distinctly continue,” Catakli vowed.
However, it is not clear whether Turkey’s latest deportation policy will work, as some European countries are reluctant to take back their nationals.
Several European countries, including the United Kingdom (UK), Denmark, and Germany, have stripped extremist fighters of their citizenship to prevent their return, while some request passenger manifests for both military and commercial flights prior to a plane being allowed to enter their airspace.
Turkey’s Foreign Ministry directed requests for comment to the interior ministry on how to move during the new deportation policy. The Interior Ministry, however, did not immediately respond, according to the Guardian’s Monday report.
Last week, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had said Ankara would begin repatriating foreigners he alleges are ISIS members from next Monday, even if they had been stripped of their citizenship by their home countries.
The UK has stripped more than 100 people of citizenship on the grounds that they were allegedly members of jihadist groups abroad, a move that made the detainees legally stateless.
Under the New York Convention of 1961, which has not been ratified by Britain and France, it is illegal to leave an individual stateless.
On Monday, the German Foreign Ministry spokesperson confirmed Catakli’s announcement which said 10 German nationals, including five women and two children, would be deported on November 14 and 15. The spokesman said he did not know whether any were ISIS fighters and did not contest their citizenship.
Denmark was also in contact with Ankara over a Danish citizen convicted of terrorism charges in Turkey, the Danish Public Prosecutor said on Monday.
Unlike German and Danish authorities, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said she was not aware of the Turkish deportation plans.
On Monday, a Dutch court ruled that the government must help repatriate children of women who joined ISIS, but the mothers do not need to be accepted back.
The United States (US) and the EU worry about the resurgence of the ISIS following the Turkish operation, as there are around 11,000 ISIS fighters in Syria’s prisons under the SDF control, with nearly one-fifth of those are believed to be European nationals. The number reaches tens of thousands together with their family members, according to Deutsche Welle (DW).
The EU states are reportedly working on a plan to move thousands of imprisoned jihadists out of Syrian prisons and into Iraq.