Germany says repatriation of Syria extremists ‘extremely difficult’

BERLIN (AFP) – The German Foreign Minister said it would be “extremely difficult” to organise the repatriation of European nationals in Syria who had joined the Islamic State (IS) group, in response to a call by United States (US) President Donald Trump.

A return could only be possible if “we can guarantee that these people can be immediately sent here to appear in court and that they will be detained,” Heiko Maas told ARD television late Sunday.

For this, “we need judicial information, and this is not yet the case,” he said. Under such conditions a repatriation would be “extremely difficult to achieve”.

Berlin wants to “consult with France and Britain… over how to proceed,” he said.

The subject is to be raised yesterday at a meeting of European foreign ministers called to discuss among other issues “the situation in Syria, in particular the recent developments on the ground,” according to an agenda for the talks.

German Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas. – AP

Trump on Sunday called on his European allies to take back alleged extremists captured in Syria.

IS imposed a self-declared caliphate across parts of Syria and neighbouring Iraq from 2014, but has since lost all of it except a tiny patch of less than half a square kilometre near the Iraqi border.

After years of fighting IS, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) hold hundreds of foreigners accused of fighting for the group, and as well as related women and children.

Syria’s Kurds have repeatedly called for their countries of origin to take them back, but these nations have been reluctant.

“The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial,” Trump said in a tweet, using another acronym for IS.

After initial reluctance, Paris appears ready to consider the return of its nationals. In Belgium, Justice Minister Koen Geens called for a “European solution” on Sunday, calling for “calm reflection and looking at what would be the least security risks”.