By Yaşar Yakış, Ahval
Iraqi authorities announced this week that they had repatriated 188 children of Turkish members of Islamic State (ISIS).
Turkish authorities are now faced with the annoying task of deciding what to do with these children, because their parents are still being tried in Iraqi courts or serving prison sentences in Iraqi jails.
The Turkish Ministry of Family, Labour and of Social Services will try to find a place for these children either in the families of their relatives or will have to find other ways to accommodate them. The Turkish Embassy in Baghdad believes most of these children must have relatives in Turkey, so they might be returned to them, but it is difficult to tell whether these relatives will all be eager to receive the children, because they may be suspected of being ISIS members.
Turkish media used to frequently report Turkish citizens travelling to Syria to join the ranks of ISIS, but there were less frequent reports of fighters going to Iraq. The Turkey-Syria border is 910-km long, while the Turkey-Iraq border is 384 km and much less permeable. Therefore, the number of Turkish citizens who fought for ISIS is probably higher in Syria than in Iraq and many of them may still be somewhere in Syria. Repatriating them may involve additional difficulties, as Turkey and Syria have no official channel of communications.
When Raqqa, the ISIS de facto capital, was recaptured by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), media reports suggested the United States was turning a blind eye to the departure of jihadist fighters and their families, hoping that they would fight against the Syrian government. There were many Turks among those who were evacuated and their fate remains unclear after they left Raqqa.
Coming back to the children repatriated by Iraq, there are three categories of ISIS-related Turks in Iraq. The most innocent are children who did not commit any crimes. Iraqi law states no prosecution can be made against for children under the age of nine. If they are above this age, but have not committed any act of violence, they will be punished only for having illegally entered Iraqi territory. If they are above the age of nine and have committed an offence, they will be punished accordingly.
The second category is the wives of ISIS terrorists. No person should face criminal charges for crimes committed by others. Therefore, wives who were not directly involved in the commission of a crime, or did not help the perpetrator to commit a crime, or who did not try to cover it up, should not face prosecution. It will take meticulous investigation to find out whether a wife of an ISIS fighter did not play any role whatsoever in the commission of any crimes. For this category, repatriation or extradition involves additional difficulties, because the extradition of perpetrators of terrorist acts is subject to a more complicated set of rules.
The third category is ISIS fighters themselves. For this category conditions are stricter, because even if they did not commit an act of terror, membership of a terrorist organisation such as ISIS is a punishable act in itself. International law provides a set of rules for this category.
Several countries have refused to take back citizens who have fought for ISIS. Turkey is doing the right thing by readmitting them, because after all they are its citizens, but it could lead to new problems for Turkey as their numbers increase.
The issue of the resettlement of the children of ISIS fighters is a bitter reminder of the lack of due diligence by Turkish authorities in controlling their borders and stopping the passage of jihadist terrorists, but is a relatively easy chapter of the problem. Repatriating the wives of fighters and ultimately the jihadists themselves could cause further disturbance in Turkish society due to what Turkish authorities have done and failed to do in the past.