Advocacy organisation CAGE, which argues that there’s no evidence to suggest that blowback will occur in Britain from returning jihadis, has issued a list of steps that should be taken to keep the UK safe and avoid community tensions being unnecessarily inflamed.
In a press release CAGE says:
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 rehabilitate returnees and 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’ is along the right lines. 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 rehabilitate 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 to rehabilitate and 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.
Recently Home Secretary Theresa May said that an attack on Britain is “highly likely”, although she said there is no evidence to suggest an attack is imminent. She added that the decision to raise the official threat level is “related to developments in Syria and Iraq, where terrorist groups are planning attacks against the West”.
The Home Secretary said some of the plots were likely to involve foreign fighters who had travelled to the Middle East from Britain and Europe to take part in the conflicts there.
The government is also poised to bring in new laws to prevent the spread of “extremism.” New powers will be examined to stop “radical” preachers, as well as banning orders for “extremist” groups.
“We will be engaged in this struggle for many years, probably decades,” May recently wrote in a national broadsheet.
“We must give ourselves all the legal powers we need to prevail. I am looking again at the case for new banning orders for extremist groups that fall short of the legal threshold for terrorist proscription, as well as for new civil powers to target extremists who seek to radicalise others.”
“While it is illegal for any country to make its citizens stateless, any British national who returns from Syria and Iraq faces prosecution here for participating in terrorist activities abroad,” she added.
More than 150 people have been excluded from Britain for “unacceptable behaviour” since the coalition came to power in 2010, including foreign “hate” preachers. Police have also removed 28,000 pieces of “terrorist” material from the internet.