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UN wants Maldives to urgently bring back foreign fighters from war- torn Syria

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The case of Shamima Begum, a British resident who ran away in 2015 to become an Islamic State bride, enthralled the UK for months (Photo: IANS)

Fionnuala Ní Aoláin--the Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights has urged the Maldivian government to bring back Maldivian women and children from the Al Hol and Roj camps in Syria and other conflict areas.

Maldives, like many other countries across the world, is grappling with the vexed question of what to do about radical citizens who went to fight for global Islamist groups in some of the most dangerous war zones like Syria. Governments are also dealing with the question of children being born to women who were radicalised and served as sex slaves in Islamist camps.

Maldives--an archipelago of hundreds of small islands in the Indian Ocean, has been dealing with increasing radicalisation of its people due to foreign influences. It is also witnessing sporadic incidents of violence, including one in which current Speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed was attacked on 6 May, 2021.

Despite its small population, the country is facing growing radicalisation.

To tackle the issue of children born to its nationals in war zones, the government formalised regulations in January 2022 for registration of such children. Maldivian law says that the children born to fighters and others in conflict zones have to be registered before their return to the country. The country has also set up systems for de-radicalisation and welfare of these children.

The Times of Male reported that on a visit to Maldivian capital Male, Aoláin said children born in war zones were living in horrific conditions. "These children are victims of terrorism and must be treated with dignity and respect and returned to the Maldives without stigma to live normal and productive lives", she said, adding that the UN would support the Maldives government in this effort.

Maldives had recently brought back a family of four--a mother and three children, two of whom were born in a foreign war zone.

It is not just Muslim countries like Maldives and Indonesia, but even European countries who are dealing with the issue of their nationals joining the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Many fear to bring back their citizens to avoid further radicalisation of its population. A study by the Amsterdam-based European Foundation for South Asian Studies (EFSAS) says: "The Maldives has become the country with the highest rate of foreign fighters per capita in the world, and it faces internal menaces that push the country’s youth towards joining foreign terror organisations".

In December 2019, the Maldives' Commissioner of Police Mohamed Hameed, told councillors that 423 Maldivians had attempted to join terrorist organisations in Syria and Iraq, of which 173 managed to enter the war zones. He added that before the Syrian civil war, hundreds of local extremists had travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight in the religious war. Some of the Af-Pak returnees were found to have been radicalising the local people after their return to the Maldives.

The police chief also mentioned the terror attacks that had been foiled, saying that the previous government had downplayed the issue of radicalisation and Maldivians travelling to foreign lands for jihad.