Countries continue to abdicate responsibility on foreign ISIS members

Many countries don’t want ISIS members back because they know that justice systems in places like Europe have no real laws to keep them in prison.

ISIS militants who surrendered to the Afghan government are presented to media in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan November 17, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/PARWIZ)
ISIS militants who surrendered to the Afghan government are presented to media in Jalalabad, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan November 17, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/PARWIZ)
When ISIS was largely defeated by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in March 2019, thousands of its fighters surrendered or were detained. Among them were tens of thousands of women and children, including many thousands who were foreigners who had come to support ISIS. This was only the tip of an ISIS iceberg that once numbered some 50,000 foreign volunteers and tens of thousands of local fighters.
The remnants of ISIS were taken to detention facilities. Some of these murderers were well known, while others were sympathizers or just children of ISIS members. However, the SDF and its civilian counterparts in eastern Syria, the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria don’t have the finances or the facilities to do war crimes trials for ISIS or sort all the worst from the average ISIS members. In addition, countries don’t recognize the AANES as a government, so they don’t want to do business with it regarding detainees.
This has created a collective lack of responsibility by the international community. Many countries do not want ISIS members back because they know that justice systems in places like Europe have no real laws to keep them in prison. This creates an uninviting possibility for wealthy countries, from Australia to France, of having to take back their ISIS citizens and then letting them go. So, the wealthiest countries have foisted the problem on the poorest country, Syria, and the poorest part of that country. 
The whole bizarre episode was made clear once again as New Zealand’s prime minister, widely praised for her role keeping COVID in check, critiqued Australia for not taking back an ISIS member. Jacinda Ardern is seen as one of the most competent world leaders today. Her words, therefore, mean more when she has said that Australia is “abdicating responsibilities” over an ISIS member. The person in question is a woman and two children who were caught in Turkey leaving Syria. She is alleged to be linked to ISIS. Like many thousands of women born in Europe and other wealthy countries, she was apparently drawn to the genocidal cult of ISIS and its Islamist extremism. We don’t know the full details, except she is 26 years old. That would have made her around 19 years old in 2014 when ISIS was rising. 
She is a dual national of Australia and New Zealand. She left New Zealand as a child and lived in Australia where she obtained citizenship. She left Australia to go to Syria. She travelled on an Australian passport, New Zealand says. “New Zealand frankly, is tired of having Australia exporting its problems,” the prime minister said, according to the BBC.
This is not the first case like this. Only a handful of countries, such as Kosovo, have done the right thing in eastern Syria, and taken back their citizens. Other countries often provide no support for housing their citizens in places like al-Hol camp, and won’t take them back and refuse for the AANES to hand their citizens over to the Syrian regime government. These countries also sometimes complain of how their citizens are treated, but don’t want them back. In other cases, Western governments simply stripped their citizens of citizenship, leaving them stateless. This is a convenient way for Western governments to not have to take responsibility for people who were often radicalized in places like Belgium or the UK. There are some exceptions. In October 2019, two members of the ISIS so-called “Beatles” torture and execution death squad, a group known for murdering journalists, were taken out of Syria by the US after US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw. These were British citizens,  but the UK doesn’t want them back. 
The US has now sought to charge them. In October 2020, they appeared via video link in a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. The men “had been in custody in Iraq.” They have been moved around it seems. Like many aspects of Western governments dealing with ISIS detainees, much is opaque. This is odd because these same Western governments seemed quite capable of running the Nuremberg trials in 1945. Somehow 75 years later, they can’t figure out how to put together a case against war criminals. 
There are still some 1,600 Iraqi citizens detained in Syria. A hundred were handed over from the AANES on February 14. There are some 10,000 ISIS members still held in Syria. There are also 40,000 people in al-Hol camp, some of them are hard core ISIS families who terrorize the others. A report at VOA on February 13 noted that “US officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of the intelligence, blame recent killings — including at least one beheading and multiple execution-style killings — on IS operatives and supporters, warning they are now rapidly turning camps like the densely populated al-Hol into a base for the terror group’s operations.”
All of this illustrates that years after the defeat of the ISIS “caliphate,” the group’s networks are growing and the attempt by many countries to abdicate responsibility has enabled the extremists to continue to sneak out of camps and put down roots. A global pandemic has not helped matters. Countries that already said it was difficult to figure out how to get their citizens out of Syria and prosecute them, now can claim that health concerns mean it’s better to leave the problem in Syria. Of course, that doesn’t help the poor people asked to secure the camp, the members of the SDF and their various security forces. At the same time, Turkey continues to bash the US for supporting the US, claiming the SDF are “terrorists.” Turkey has often been a destination for ISIS members leaving Syria, just as it was a conduit for ISIS members going to Syria. This creates a toxic and potentially destabilizing mix.