Radio Sputnik discussed the report with Houssem ben Lazreg, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta, Canada.
Sputnik: In your view, why was the number of women and children linked to the Daesh returning to the UK underestimated?
Houssem ben Lazreg: The governments didn’t have or don’t have very clear records. In many cases some of these returnees, when they come home, sometimes they come home illegally so they don’t go through customs and so it becomes more difficult to track the numbers of those returnees. In one view, you have the government’s record which is lacking, and at the same time, for many countries, those returnees when they come back, they come back illegally because when they went there, they burned their passports. So it becomes difficult to come back to their countries when there’s no passport, so they try to go through illegal ways.
Sputnik: What means are currently taken by the British government to regulate the returnees and what more can be done?
Houssem ben Lazreg: There is a couple of approaches, taken by different governments in Europe. Some, like the British and the French, tried at some point to go for an offensive approach, like “let’s kill those fighters on the battlefield there, before they come home.” Some other countries, like Canada, have taken a different approach – “let’s get them home and let’s work on disengagement and deradicalization.” Other countries, like Germany, adopted a more prosecution [approach] – “let’s prosecute them when they come back, but at the same time let’s try to rehabilitate them.” So you have different approaches taken by different Western countries.
Sputnik: How much of a threat do these women and minors represent once they return to their home countries?
Houssem ben Lazreg: Here we always have to remember that there’s no zero risk. When these women and kids come back to their home countries, there is the risk, there is insecurity, we can’t deny that. And that’s why in terrorism studies we say there’s no zero risk, there’s always a risk. When they come home, there’re different approaches again. Governments technically can prosecute them if they have enough evidence. A second thing: they can go into disengagement programs; that’s what, for example, Canada has been doing recently – they are establishing disengagement centers so that they can provide support.
By disengagement, we mean that these people stop being violent. At the end of the day they’re going to change their perception or their way of understanding religion, but with the disengagement you tend to reduce their violence. The radicalization is another topic. It’s controversial because it’s regarded as a kind of policing – you’re policing somebody’s thoughts, and in the Western democracies that’s not something acceptable.
But again, there’s also a book by Phil Gurski, a Canadian terrorism expert, he talks about the issue of returnees and he suggested a lot of solutions to handle the issue. One of them is surveillance – you have to get some spies to surveil these people, to keep an eye. But again, that comes with a cost. We place people under surveillance, it costs a lot of money and takes resources and it may not be the most efficient way. That’s why they always say that underestimating numbers is dangerous but overestimating is expensive.
The views and opinions expressed in this article by the speaker do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.
* Daesh (ISIL, ISIS, IS, Islamic state) is a terrorist group banned in Russia