Cautious on ISIS Returnees

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  • TEMPO.CO, JakartaThe government has said it is open to the possibility of bringing home children and orphans of former ISIS combatants. There needs to be a strict selection procedure and an effective deradicalization program.

    THE Indonesian government must be extremely cautious before allowing former sympathizers of the Islamic State and their families to come home. Intelligence agencies and the National Counterterrorism Agency must select very carefully who among these 689 Indonesian citizens will be allowed to return. Hastily repatriating them will be like planting a time bomb – that one day will bring disaster to this country.

    President Joko Widodo has emphasized that he will not allow Indonesian citizens who were ISIS combatants to return to this country because public safety must come first. Jokowi will only open the door to children and orphans of ISIS combatants who are still under 10 years old.

    The government is responsible for protecting vulnerable groups such as women and children. They cannot be allowed to remain without statehood or protection. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that every person has the right to statehood. Children who were taken by their parents to Syria or who were born there bear no responsibility. They are victims of their parents’ mistaken ideology.

    These children would be more of a danger if they were allowed to live permanently in refugee camps in Syria. This bad and harsh environment would affect their physical and psychological development, making them prone to falling for radical ideology.

    The government has made the right move by establishing a special team to determine who will be allowed to come home. ISIS combatants must face international justice. The Indonesian government can work together with international bodies, including the United Nations, to separate out non-combatants, including women and children. This selection is necessary because not everybody who traveled to Syria went there to wage war or establish a caliphate. Some were swept along by economic temptations and the promise of a better life. Only repatriating children under 10 years old is not an effective policy, especially if these children have older siblings or family members.

    On the other hand, the public concern that ISIS sympathizers who come home will once again spread terror is understandable, especially since some former combatants have carried out terror attacks. One example is the January 27, 2019 suicide bombing of the cathedral on Jolo Island in the southern Philippines. This attack, which killed 22 people and injured hundreds of others, was carried out by husband and wife Rullie Rian Zeke and Ulfah Handayani Saleh. These two ISIS sympathizers were deported to Turkey when they tried to enter Syria in 2017. Members of the Jamaah Ansharud Daulah Makassar, they took part in a rehabilitation program when they returned to Indonesia before sneaking into the Philippines.

    Therefore, the government must establish a strict selection process and a deradicalization program for children and women so that they do not spread the virus of terrorism once they come home to Indonesia. Without these two endeavors, the plan to bring home the families of ex-ISIS combatants should be abandoned.

    Read the Complete Story in this Week's Edition of Tempo English Magazine