Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta
Updated: February 13, 2020 07:04 AM GMT
Indonesians arrive at a camp 50 kilometers north of Raqa, Syria, after fleeing the Islamic State group’s Syrian bastion in this 2017 file photo. (Photo: Ayham al-Mohammad/AFP)
The Indonesian government has decided to not repatriate almost 700 of its citizens who went to join the Islamic State (IS) group in the Middle East, citing terrorism fears.
“The government has no plans to repatriate terrorists. Not even [the government] will bring terrorist fighters home,” Coordinating Legal, Political and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD told journalists after a cabinet meeting on Feb. 11.
There are 689 Indonesian citizens who joined IS in Syria and Iraq, according to government figures.
“The government has to ensure that the 267 million people in Indonesia are safe from the threat of terrorism,” the minister said.
However, he said the government might consider repatriating some of the children. “Children under 10 will be considered on a case-by-case basis.,” he said.
Reports say most of the would-be returnees are women and children who want to return to Indonesia because their husbands have either been killed in the war or imprisoned in Iraq and Syria.
The wives and children of dead fighters are facing an uncertain future in Syrian camps following the Islamic group’s defeat last year.
Stanislaus Riyanta, an intelligence analyst from the University of Indonesia, called the government’s decision “the right move.”
“The government’s main consideration is the Indonesian people’s safety. If these fighters and their families are repatriated, they will be a new threat,” he told UCA News.
He said there have been calls for their repatriation on humanitarian grounds, but the risks are great, he said, pointing to a wave of violence in May 2018 perpetrated by supporters of the Islamic group.
This included a riot at a high-security detention center for terror suspects in Depok, near Jakarta, which left five policemen and a prisoner dead.
It also included a spate of suicide bombings that targeted three churches, an apartment building and the police headquarters in Surabaya that left 14 people dead, including a Catholic named Bayu Rendra Wardhana, and more than 40 people injured.
“If the IS fighters and their families are repatriated and live freely in this country, this could all happen again. This is very dangerous,” Riyanta said.
Rosalia Riswaty, the aunt of Bayu Rendra Wardhana, a Catholic killed in the Surabaya church bombings, welcomed the government’s decision.
“I cannot trust them. They have been used to living such a [violent] life,” she told UCA News. “I worry much about possible terror attacks in the future. We Christians are called on to love one another. But not this time. This is very scary.”