Turkey to repatriate most ISIS detainees by year-end: Interior Minister

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has said that Turkey will have repatriated most of its ISIS detainees to their home countries by the end of the year. He also said that countries that revoked the citizenships of their nationals were violating international law.


Turkey will have repatriated most of its ISIS detainees to their home countries by the end of the year, Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu told Reuters on Nov. 19, a week after Turkish authorities began the repatriation program.

Ankara says it has captured 287 militants in northeast Syria, where Turkish troops launched an offensive against the People’s Protection Units (YPG) last month, and has hundreds more jihadist suspects in detention.

Speaking to Reuters in Ankara, Soylu said Turkey was aiming to send six or seven more ISIS suspects this week to their home countries, including Ireland and the Netherlands. Turkish officials are in touch with counterparts there, he added.

"The number of detainees to be repatriated by the year-end depends on how long the processes take, but especially for Europe, the process is under way," Soylu said.

"I think we will have sent a large part of them to their countries by the end of the year," he said, adding that certain countries that revoked the citizenships of their nationals were violating international law.

"They do not have the right to leave their citizens without a nationality. They have no such right," he said. "This is why we held evaluations with certain countries on this, and they are taking them back."

Turkey has repatriation and extradition agreements with the countries concerned but informs them before sending detainees back.

Turkey has accused its European allies of being too slow to take back their citizens who had travelled to the Middle East to join ISIS. Meanwhile, European countries are trying to speed up a plan to move thousands of jihadists out of Syrian prisons and into Iraq.

Turkey's European NATO allies have been worried that last month's offensive into northeastern Syria could lead to ISIS suspects and their families escaping from the prisons and camps run by the YPG.

Ankara has dismissed the concerns, saying the militia had vacated some of the prisons and allowed around 800 jihadists to escape. Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist organization due to it being the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – a group designated as a terrorist organization by Ankara, Washington and the European Union.

So far Turkey has repatriated 10 German nationals, one U.S. citizen, and one British suspected fighter. Ankara has said that suspects will still be deported to Ireland, France and other mostly European nations in the coming days.

100,000 Syrians left Istanbul since early July: Soylu

On Nov. 20, Soylu said that around 100,000 Syrians living without approval in Istanbul had left it since early July, when the government set a deadline for Syrians not registered in the city to leave for other provinces.

As sentiment towards Syrian refugees among Turks began to sour in recent years, authorities said Syrians not registered in Turkey's largest city should return to the provinces in which they are registered by Oct. 30, or face forced removal.

Turkey hosts some 3.6 million refugees who fled the eight-year-old civil war, more than any other country. The Syrian population in Istanbul, home to some 15 million people, had swollen to more than half a million, more than those in any other Turkish city.

Syrians registered in other cities came to Istanbul, leading to an acculumation in the city, Soylu told parliament.

"Around 100,000 Syrian have returned to provinces in which they are registered since July 12," he said, adding that a total of 200,000 migrants had left the city.

Turkey also houses migrants from other Middle Eastern and African nations.

Ankara wants to settle some Syrian refugees in a swathe of land it now controls in northeast Syria, after it launched its offensive last month.

Turkey has deported 86,625 illegal migrants so far this year, compared to 56,000 in all of 2018, Soylu said.