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Past event

ICCT Live Briefing: The Repatriation of Foreign Terrorist Fighters and Their Families: Why Not?


On Tuesday, June 23 2020, the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) hosted an online Live Briefing via Zoom, followed by a Q&A session. 

Hundreds of European foreign terrorist fighters and their families are currently still being detained in Syria by Kurdish forces. It has been more than a year since ISIS lost its last piece of territory, yet no solution for handling these people has emerged. They continue to be held on an indefinite basis in makeshift prisons or overcrowded refugee camps. European governments have taken back only a handful of these people, almost all unaccompanied children. The issue has been displaced from public attention, but the underlying problem is only worsening.

This live briefing examines the case for European governments to repatriate foreign terrorist fighters and their families. How serious are the problems posed by repatriation, and can they be overcome? What are the prospects for prosecuting them at home? Why have European governments been so slow to act? Are there any viable alternatives?

The discussion is based on two papers: “The Repatriation of Foreign Fighters and Their Families: Options, Obligations, Morality and Long-Term Thinking”, by Tanya Mehra and Christophe Paulussen (ICCT) and “Beyond good and evil: Why Europe should bring ISIS foreign fighters home” by Anthony Dworkin (ECFR).



  • Anthony Dworkin is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations working on human rights, democracy and international order, with a particular focus on the Middle East and North Africa. He has written widely on the European and US response to international terrorism, among other subjects. He is also a visiting lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs at Sciences Po, and was formerly executive director of the Crimes of War Project.
  • Tanya Mehra is Senior Project Leader/Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. With a background in international law, Tanya is involved in conducting research, providing evidence-based policy advice, and advising governments on a rule of a law approach in countering terrorism. Previously, she worked at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut where she was engaged with conducting needs assessment missions, capacity building projects and training activities.
  • Dr. Christophe Paulussen is a senior researcher at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut and coordinator of its research strand ‘Human Dignity and Human Security in International and European Law’, coordinator of the inter-faculty research platform ‘International Humanitarian and Criminal Law Platform’ and research fellow at the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism since 2011. Before that, he was an assistant professor at Tilburg University.

The Live Briefing was moderated by Julie Coleman, ICCT Senior Programme Manager. For further reading on foreign fighters, read the following recent publications by ICCT: