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Half of Irish people think countries should refuse to repatriate citizens who fought with Islamic State

The Irish government has said citizens have the right to return home, but fighters face the possibility of prosecution.

Alexandr Bekmirzaev was captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces in north east Syria
Alexandr Bekmirzaev was captured by the Syrian Democratic Forces in north east Syria

MORE THAN HALF of Irish people believe countries should refuse to take back citizens who went to fight with the Islamic State terror group, according to a survey.

There has been a debate in recent weeks about the repatriation of Islamic State members who have Irish citizenship. The most recent Irish case is that of Dundalk woman Lisa Smith, who is currently being detained in Syria with her child.

Smith travelled to Syria in 2015 and was married to an Islamic State fighter who was killed in recent months. She told CNN in an interview this week that she wants to come home with her child.

Another Islamic State member who has been captured in Syria, 45-year-old Alexandr Bekmirzev, has citizenship in both Ireland and Belarus

According to a survey carried out by Amarach Research for RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live and TheJournal.ie, 53% of people do not think countries should repatriate citizens who went to fight with the Islamic State group.

In the survey 26% of people said they believe countries should take back their citizens and 21% of people said they didn’t know. 

TheJournal.ie explored the topic in its most recent episode of The Explainer


Source: The Explainer/SoundCloud

The government does not have the option of revoking the citizenship of individuals who only have Irish citizenship. However the Minister for Justice can do this if citizens have dual nationality.

In December, Minister Charlie Flanagan decided to strip Ali Charaf Damache, the man who is currently in prison in the US, of his Irish citizenship on the basis that he broke the oath he took to declare fidelity to the Irish nation and loyalty to the State.

He is challenging that in the courts, arguing that if he is sent to Algeria after his sentence is served he may be tortured or killed.

The Department of Justice has said Irish citizens in Syria have the right to return home. However it said the return of Islamic State members “presents complex challenges, including questions of public protection, the prosecution of offences, the protection of citizens’ rights and deradicalisation”.

The department said if fighters do return and there is evidence they committed terrorist offences, they will be fully investigated with a view to prosecution. 

In the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Lisa Smith would be subject to a “security assessment” on her return to ensure she is “not a threat to life and limb here in Ireland”. Her case was discussed by Cabinet yesterday. 

Backlash

Experts in deradicalisation have said this will need to be a focus for any governments that repatriate citizens.

Dr Ajmal Hussain of the School of Social Sciences in the University of Manchester said a sensitive approach is required if deradicalisation of Islamic extremists is to work.

“One thing I have found from speaking to people who have either been imprisoned under anti-terror laws or who have returned from being abroad is that they don’t want to be known in public,” he told The Explainer podcast. 

He referenced the “huge backlash” after British woman Shamima Begum appeared on television and reports of people using a picture of her face in a shooting range.

“Returnees or people who have been convicted and now released they want to play a low-key role,” he said.

He said deradicalisation can work and there are already groups who are doing this work, either by putting structures in place for these individuals to settle back into society, or working to “reform” their ideas. 

Hussain said “these are by no means easy jobs to do.”

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