When the issue was debated in parliament on Tuesday, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats (SD) called on the government to strip the foreign fighters of their Swedish citizenship so that they are either deemed stateless or are forced to apply for other citizenship.
“One solution is that they [Swedes who have fought for Isis, ed.] seek citizenship in another country that is willing to take them,” SD MP Adam Marttinen said.
The Sweden Democrats (SD) were not the only party to accuse the government of not doing enough to address the issue of returning foreign fighters. MPs from the Moderates and Christian Democrats also criticized the nation’s response.
Johan Forssel of the Moderates said it was simply unacceptable that under current legislation those who have joined a terror group abroad face the same level of punishment as people found guilty of simple theft.
“[The punishment] for having had a relationship with a horrible terrorist organization is provocatively mild,” he told Aftonbladet.
None of the 150 Swedish citizens who have returned home after joining Isis have been convicted of crimes committed while abroad. While some European countries are investigating all returning foreign fighters for possible crimes, Sweden is not.
This is due in large part to the nation’s laws. In Sweden, suspicion of a specific crime is required in order to initiate a preliminary investigation. Without any concrete leads, the police's ability to access any evidence, for example by searching returning foreign fighters' phones, decreases drastically.
Many, including Sweden’s leading terrorism expert Magnus Ranstorp, have called for authorities to immediately investigate any Swedish citizen who returns from a foreign conflict zone.
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Late last month, the government introduced legislation that would make it illegal to both participate in a terrorist organization and to cooperate with these organizations. The laws would not however be applied retroactively, meaning that people who have previously joined terror groups would not be prosecuted.
SD is not alone in calling for foreign fighters to lose their Swedish citizenship. Others who support the idea include Gothenburg police chief Erik Nord, who said that revoking Isis fighters’ citizenship would be “simpler, cheaper and more effective than prosecuting them in Swedish court.”
But the government has resisted taking that action.
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven has declined to support the idea of revoking citizenship and Interior Minister Mikael Damberg said after Tuesday’s debate in parliament that the government’s newly-proposed anti-terror legislation does not include plans to revoke citizenship because a law change like that would take too long to be part of an immediate solution.
“It would require a constitutional amendment and that takes four to five years to get through,” he said.
What about the children?
In addition to the debate over foreign fighters themselves, Swedish authorities are also conflicted over what to do with children of Isis supporters who hold Swedish citizenship.
It’s estimated that 30-40 Swedish children are among the 65,000-plus people currently living in the Al-Hol camp in northeastern Syria, where the UN has expressed serious concerns about the living conditions.
In a joint op-ed published in Dagens Nyheter, Damberg and Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said the situation “is very complicated”. The ministers wrote that Sweden cannot take the children back for a variety of reasons, including the authorities’ inability to take a child from its parents and the fact that many of the children in question lack the proper paperwork that would confirm their Swedish nationality.
It is estimated that around 300 people have left Sweden to join terror groups in Syria and Iraq since 2012. Roughly half of them are believed to have returned to Sweden, while around 50 are thought to have been killed and another 100 remain in the region.