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Addressing Europe’s Foreign Fighter Issue

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Legal Avenues at the International and National Level

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Since its beginning, the Syrian civil war has been marked by atrocities on both sides of the conflict and as diplomatic efforts fail to bring the various fighting factions to one table, there seems to be no end in sight for the increasingly sectarian conflict. The Syrian crisis has drawn in a range of outside factions and there are reports of some 11,000 non-Syrians fighting alongside government troops, opposition forces and other, often religiously-inspired groups. While most of these so-called foreign fighters come from neighbouring states, around 20 percent of them are estimated to come from Europe. Authorities at the national and international level try to counter these worrying developments via a plethora of means. This article focusses on the question of what legal tools and measures legislators can and should utilise to prevent potential fighters from travelling to Syria and/or prosecuting individuals upon their return, for example for acts committed while abroad or the possible preparation of terrorism-related acts. It analyses the legal avenues available on the international and domestic levels for addressing the issue of foreign fighters. As concerns the national level, the article focuses on the European states that appear to have the highest percentage of departed foreign fighters: Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (uk). The authors conclude, among other things, that rule of law responses to the foreign fighter phenomenon in the countries investigated remains fragmented. Although at the European level, the attacks in Belgium in May 2014 have meant that calls for a comprehensive approach to the foreign fighter phenomenon have become more urgent, it is doubtful whether Europe will soon have a Union-wide response to this increasingly challenging problem.

Affiliations: 1: Research Fellow, icct/Asser, The Hague; 2: Programme Officer, icct/Asser, The Hague


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