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Finland won’t strip citizenship from ISIS fighters, minister says

Government is currently reviewing legislation that would allow it to strip Finnish citizenship from dual nationals convicted of terrorist acts in certain cases.

Sisäministeri Kai Mykkänen (kok.)
Sisäministeri Kai Mykkänen (kok.) Image: Heikki Saukkomaa / Lehtikuva

Finland will not prevent the return of nationals who’ve left the country to fight among the ranks ISIS, Interior Minister Kai Mykkänen said on Wednesday.

"However we will not try to tempt any ISIS fighters to return or get them back to Finland. Of course the premise is that if [someone] has Finnish citizenship, and their travel documents are in order, then nationality is established," Mykkänen said.

The minister said that authorities in Finland will prepare for the return of people from ISIS-controlled areas as they get information about possible returnees from local embassies.

"Before the individual is transferred to Finland, we will prepare so that the threshold for beginning a preliminary is very low is the person is suspected of committing crimes in the combat area," Mykkänen explained.

Number of returnees "surprisingly low"

The minister said however that the number of Finns who left to fight alongside ISIS and now want to return home is "surprisingly low".

During 2016 an estimated 80 adults left Finland to go to conflict regions, taking with them a few dozen children. Some children were also born in ISIS-controlled areas. About half of the adults who left for Syria were killed.

"As reprehensible as these peoples’ actions were, there were also children born these areas who did not choose their fate. We must be very careful about how we treat their situations," the minister observed.

"Important to send a signal"

Government is currently reviewing legislation that would allow the state to strip Finnish citizenship from dual nationals convicted of terrorist acts in certain cases.

If passed, the reform would apply to crimes committed with terrorist intent and which are found to be against Finland’s vital interests.

"It is essential to send a signal that it’s not advisable to join terrorist groups and that doing so has serious criminal consequences."

Finland will not apply punishments retroactively however. In December 2016 another law came into force to punish the act of travelling abroad to join the ranks of terrorist organisations. The new law was introduced after several people had already left for conflict zones in 2016.

The minister said that public debate on the return of ISIS fighters demonstrates the need for new legislation.

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