The Netherlands should no longer delay the repatriation and trial of Dutch Syrian refugees, and especially IS women, who are in detention camps in Syria. Not only the law, but also domestic security is best served by this, the Public Prosecution Service, intelligence service AIVD and counterterrorism coordinator NCTV unanimously informed the House of Representatives on Wednesday morning.
The Netherlands runs “an extra great risk” if it continues to not actively prosecute IS travelers, said National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg during a round table discussion with members of parliament. Travelers are then at risk of being out of sight or escaping. According to AIVD boss Erik Akerboom, “there is a definite chance” that the Kurds who guard the camps can no longer handle this or no longer want to do so. “The choice is now: either impunity for our Syrians, or transfer them to the Netherlands for trial,” said public prosecutor Ferry van Veghel.
Akerboom estimates that about 25 Dutch IS women are trapped in various camps, often with small children who are not yet seen as a security risk. “We currently see children as victims,” says Aalbersberg. “In the longer term, they are more likely to be recruited, trained and indoctrinated.”
Two thirds of the Dutch IS members are children, it turned out during the round table discussion, in which scientists also participated.
Also read: is the repatriation of IS-ganger Ilham B. a one-off action or a precedent?
The discussion about repatriation gained momentum for two weeks, when a Dutch diplomatic delegation appeared to be collecting an IS woman and three children from a camp in northeast Syria. This unusual step was decided after the criminal court in Rotterdam threatened to end the case against the woman, unless the cabinet ensured that she could attend her own trial. The issue will be discussed on Thursday during a House of Representatives debate on terrorism.
Governmental parties VVD and CDA are strongly against the repatriation of IS members. But Van Veghel of the Public Prosecution Service warned that ending a criminal case is “an irrevocable decision”. An appeal is not possible. Only a person who clearly indicates that he does not want to be present at his own trial can be sentenced in absentia. According to Van Verghel, this does not apply to the group of women in Syrian camps. Almost all of them have indicated that they wish to make use of their ‘right to attend’.
Also read: The Netherlands did not pick up its IS women. Now they escape
Many MPs are pushing for a trial in the region. According to top official Thijs van der Plas of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands is trying to get a trial in the region off the ground in various ways: “None of those traces seems very promising at the moment.” There is too little support within the UN Security Council for an international tribunal, says Van der Plas. Trial in Syria, in areas controlled by the Kurds, is difficult under international law. Trial in Iraq too. Iraq itself has 30,000 citizens in camps. They are already facing a huge legal burden.” Van der Plas called the fact that the Iraqis have the death penalty “a showstopper” – the Netherlands is against it.
Netherlands out of step
Van der Plas also suggested that the Netherlands is out of step with current policy within the EU. “All Schengen partners who have children in the camps have policies to bring those children back.” Even if this has to be done with the mothers there. According to Van der Plas, Belgium, Germany, France, Germany, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Finland, Italy, Norway and Austria have all picked up nationals.
VVD and CDA claim that bringing back IS-goers is more dangerous than leaving them there. Aalbersberg (NCTV) and Akerboom (AIVD) acknowledge that the returnees pose a risk, but believe that, all things considered, it is safer to have them here. “We assume that the immediate threat of violence is doubtful for the majority of women, even after their return,” Akerboom said. “They had a limited role within ISIS and mainly engaged in household tasks.”