Foreign fighters are returning from the battlefield — not Islamists but the Americans, Europeans and South Americans who fought to rid the world of Isis. But for all their bravery, their homecoming is a tricky one because their home countries do not want them back.
I have now interviewed more than a dozen volunteers. Many of them share similar stories of arrests and detentions. They have been stripped of their ability to travel, have their movements monitored, their bank accounts closed. One of them, an American, has since committed suicide.
One fighter, who wishes to be known as Max, tells me in an email that he has left his home country of Denmark. He had returned for a short while after enlisting for a six-month tour in the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) of north-eastern Syria where he fought to rout Isis from its de facto capital and caliphate.
During Max’s time there, the Danish government issued a law that made his mere presence in Syria illegal. He hadn’t heard about the change until he left Rojava, the north-eastern semi-autonomous Kurdish region where the SDF is based, to return home.
‘Being back in Denmark… has been mentally tiring and challenging, mainly because of my fear of the police suddenly showing up on my doorstep,’ he says. ‘In Denmark, we get treated like criminals when all we wanted was to help the Kurdish people of Syria, to defeat a terrorist organisation that had been murdering innocents all around the world.’
He is not in hiding now, he tells me, but he has left Denmark. ‘It makes me sleep much better when I’m out of the country,’ he says. ‘I am much less stressed and, in general, more happy.’
Max is not alone. Similar restrictive and oppressive measures against former fighters have spread across Europe.