The Indonesian government is considering a plan to repatriate some 600 alleged jihadis who joined the so-called Islamic State (IS) and are now trapped in Kurdish-controlled northern Syria with their families.
“The government has not yet decided on the repatriation plan,” AsiaNews cites Indonesia’s Minister for Religious Affairs, Fachrul Razi, as saying.
Razi said that both the “positive and negative impacts” of any such decision would have to be taken into account. He added that moderate Islamic organizations would be called upon to help “neutralize” their radicalism.
The Ministry of Political, Legal and Security [Affairs] is coordinating with other ministries and institutions to hammer out a plan.
One complicating factor is determining whether they are in fact Indonesian citizens, as many of them burnt their passports upon arriving in Syria, leaving them “stranded in a foreign country,” Razi said.
The London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) estimated that 700-800 Indonesians had joined IS as of July 2018. Those numbers included 113 women and 100 children. The group estimated that 183-300 of them had already returned home.
After the final IS enclave of Baghouz, Syria was liberated by U.S.-backed forces in March 2019, 70,000 people — foreign fighters and their families — were left stranded in the country. Approximately 10,000 of them are children.
One such minor, Nada Fedulla, was brought to Syria from Indonesia by her father in 2015. While her father is now in jail, Fedulla and her grandmother are now stuck in limbo in the Roj camp near the Iraqi border.
Fedulla told the BBC she would be thankful if the Indonesian people could forgive her family and allow them to return home.
Such cases have likely spurred the government plan to facilitate the repatriation of the alleged jihadis and their families on what are, at least in part, humanitarian grounds.
“For humanity’s sake, we are willing to facilitate their return home,” Razi said.
Adrianus Meliala, an expert criminologist and member of Indonesia’s Ombudsman Office, told AsiaNews that despite strong public resistance, repatriating the alleged jihadis and their families could also prove beneficial in other areas.
“As far as radicalized individuals are concerned, our government will most likely use them to track down their underground organizations and open a ‘Pandora’s box’,” Meliala said.
“De-radicalization comes with many more benefits, at lower costs, than tolerating underground movements.”