British Jihadis Fighting Abroad Could Be Banned From Returning Home For Two Years Under New Proposal

Suspected Jihadis could have their passports confiscated for up to 30 days, face regular police monitoring, home detention, or go through de-radicalization programs.

by Sally Hayden
Nov 14 2014, 9:15pm

Photo via Reuters

Suspected British jihadists who travel to Syria or Iraq could be prevented from returning to the UK for two years, if a new counter-terrorism bill proposed by prime minister David Cameron becomes law. 

Speaking at the Australian Parliament in Canberra, Cameron said that the new anti-terrorism measures would apply to suspected Jihadis, including those under the age of 18. When those affected do re-enter the country, it would be under the condition that they agree to face trial, regular police monitoring, home detention, or participate in a de-radicalization program.

It's suggested that they would retain British citizenship, but that they could have their passports confiscated by authorities for a period of up to 30 days — though a magistrate would review the seizure after 14 days. Their passport could be taken more than once if the individual was thought to be heading abroad again to join a foreign terrorist organization.

At the moment, only home secretary Theresa May can ban British citizens from traveling. If passed in parliament, this law would require a certain amount of international cooperation to be effective, given that it is rare for someone to return to the UK from Iraq or Syria without passing through another European country. 

About 500 UK citizens have so far traveled to join the Islamic State (IS), making the question of what happens when they return ever more pertinent. British defense secretary Michael Fallon has said that these returnees pose a "very real threat." The Jihadist threat is even set to be discussed further at the G20 summit this weekend.

'Bring everything you want to us': Australian teen runaway reemerges in online ISIS video. Read more here.

As international concern escalates, Human Rights Watch researcher Izza Leghtas told VICE News that she is worried about how rushed counter-terrorism legislation appears to be, both in the UK and in similar laws being drafted in various other countries. In particular, she cited France and Australia

She said that if this legislation is expected to become law by January, it would be "quite a tight timeframe," especially considering the upcoming holidays.

"The UK has obviously a duty to protect people's safety and national security but it also has obligations under human rights law," she said. Any law that is brought in, she added, "must be strictly proportionate to its aims."

"You have to question the effectiveness of this. It suggests that they could be forced to stay in the places where there is fighting going on, and how would that prevent further radicalization? How is that protecting security?" she said.

According to Leghtas, there are already procedures in place to prosecute those who have committed an offense and that these individuals are entitled to a fair trial.

"I think it's really for the government to show why it needs these new measures and what it's doing to make sure that they respect human rights," she said, explaining that it's also parliament's duty to review the proposal and keep the UK's obligations to international and domestic human rights laws in mind, ensuring necessary safeguards are put in place. "If they're introducing measures like this, they have to come with the protections."

'It's a form of torture': UNHCR launches campaign to eradicate statelessness. Read more here.

Another issue that Leghtas mentioned was the fear that counter-terrorism legislation would result in suspects being rendered stateless. While Cameron has stated that those impacted by this law will not lose their citizenship, past proposals have been less definite on this issue. 

William Spindler, the United Nations Refugee Agency's (UNHCR) senior communications officer on issues of statelessness, told VICE News that this is a difficult area, because while every person has the right to be a citizen of a state, states also have both a right and an obligation to protect their citizens from threats. 

"The situation of being stateless is a terrible situation because you cannot exercise your human rights. It doesn't matter who you are, everybody has basic human rights and governments are there to ensure that people's rights are respected," he said. "If you're stateless you don't have any government that you can enjoy the protection of."

Spindler said their stance was that people should be punished if they have committed a crime, but depriving an individual of their nationality and rendering the person stateless should not happen. He added, however, that the UNHCR's real concern is people who are stateless through no fault of their own.

The bill is expected to go before parliament in the coming month. Leghtas said that the real determiner of whether this law is sound will be how well it locks down the specifics in order to ensure that all action is proportionate to the threat. 

"The question is what is the evidence, where does the evidence come from. Can the person see the evidence and is it challenged before a judge? Can this ban be renewed?" she said.

Other contributors to the debate haven't been as nuanced. Conservative MP David Davis, writing in the Mail on Sunday in August, said: "IS is claiming to be a state. They can issue these young men with Islamic State passports if they so wish. It is not our problem that they would have trouble getting into any civilized country with them. Neither will it be our problem any more if [the Islamic State] ceases to exist."

Foreign fighters are flooding into Iraq and Syria to join the Islamic State. Read more here.

Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd