Why European Countries Do Not Repatriate Their Foreign Fighters

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According to recent estimates, approximately 1,000 to 1,100 European foreign fighters are still in camps or in prisons in Syria, while only a few dozen are in Iraq. They have different backgrounds, motivations, affiliations, and responsibilities.

So far, European governments have adopted different national policies but they have generally shared a common reluctance to repatriate their own citizens, with very few exceptions (in particular, Kosovo, facilitated by U.S. assistance).

The European states’ substantial inaction in repatriation is not based on a lack of information about the issue and the risks involved. Moreover, there is no genuine ideologically driven resistance. On the contrary, it appears to be a combination of deliberate intention not to act (especially when it comes to male adults) and passive reluctance, due to real limitations and constraints.

There are four main reasons for such underreaction: legal issues, domestic political risks, economic costs, and, above all, security concerns.

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