The Dutch government will not help IS fighter Yago Riedijk return to the country and his British wife and child should not be allowed to join him, ministers and MPs said at the weekend.
Riedijk, 26, told the BBC and the Volkskrant he hoped he could be reunited with his British wife, Shamima Begum, who has had been stripped of her citizenship by the UK government, and their newborn baby. Riedijk is currently being held in a Kurdish detention centre, while Begum and her son, Jarrah, were living until recently in a refugee camp in northern Syria.
A spokesman for Dutch justice minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said the government would not help Riedijk with his repatriation. ‘The rules are the same as for all Dutch travellers [to Syria]. If they want to return they will not have any assistance there from the Dutch side.’
MPs from all sides said Riedijk, who grew up in Arnhem and converted to Islam during a relationship with a Muslim woman, was not welcome in the Netherlands. ‘What right does he have to return?’ asked VVD MP Antoinette Laan. ‘He has been part of an organisation that has murdered people.’
GroenLinks MP Kathalijne Buitenweg said: ‘The fact that he and his family want to come to the Netherlands is not so important. The important thing is that people who have committed crimes are punished for it.’
But she added: ‘There are a sizeable number of children sitting in Syrian camps with a clear, established connection to the Netherlands. I say we are responsible for them.’
If he returns home Riedijk will have to serve a six-year prison sentence imposed by the district court in Rotterdam last year. He is one of a number of Dutch nationals who have been convicted in absentia of belonging to a terrorist organisation after going to fight in Syria.
His conviction is one of several reasons why Begum, 19, is unlikely to be granted Dutch nationality when she leaves Syria. Under the rules of the immigration service IND both partners must be 21 or older to be eligible for family reunion.
Their child could be entitled to Dutch nationality if the parents can prove they were married at the time of the birth, but Riedijk and Begum’s marriage is almost certain to be declared invalid because it was carried out on IS territory when Begum was 15 years old.
However, the government will not seek Riedijk’s extradition while he is in Kurdish detention. The Netherlands does not recognise Kurdistan as a state and has severed diplomatic relations with Syria.
Riedijk told the BBC his marriage to Begum had been arranged by a friend and had gone ahead despite his reservations about her age. In his interview with the Volkskrant he admitted that two other children the couple had had died in the Caliphate. ‘They starved… the small amount of food we had was not enough.’
Riedijk told the newspaper he regretted joining IS, but downplayed his own role in the bloodshed. ‘How can I not regret it? I’ve thrown away years of my life. My parents and my family – I have caused everyone pain and suffering.’
He said he was employed by IS as a welder, but added: ‘I did that for a while, but they made me do other things I didn’t want to do.’ Asked to go into more detail, he replied: ‘I’d rather not answer.’
He insisted he had ‘not really fought’ in the war, but said: ‘Other guys refused to fight. They were sent to prison. We had very little choice. But I was injured in a bombing raid before we could start fighting. I was bruised. Muscles, I think. I was in bed for several months.’
Riedijk said his decision to go to Syria was motivated by an ‘identity crisis’ and a desire to be accepted as a genuine Muslim. ‘Islamic State claimed to be a state that was there for people,’ he said. ‘They offered the complete package. We were brainwashed. They painted a nice picture on the internet that ultimately turned out to be untrue.’
‘I never saw executions, but I saw the aftermath, because they’d leave the bodies there,’ he added. ‘For people to see. To make them scared and frighten them off.’
Professor Kees Groenendijk, of the Centre for Migration Law at Radboud University in Nijmegen, told NOS it was unlikely the Dutch government would recognise Riedijk and Begum’s marriage. Their son could be eligible for Dutch nationality through his father, but it would be difficult to bring him to the Netherlands while Riedijk is in jail.
‘I think that as long as he’s serving his prison sentence, that might not be the ideal circumstances for the child to follow his father,’ said Groenendijk. ‘That would be a case for the child to stay with his mother rather than his father, if I look at it from the child’s perspective.’
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