One of the worst security issues for Western countries today is about the presence of a number of “foreign fighters” on their own soil. But what is a foreign fighter?
By definition, they are people from another country who gets involved in an armed conflict without the authorization of their own nation. They are not to be confused with contractors because their basic motivation will be about something different from money.
It’s not a new phenomenon. Think about the civil war in Spain (1936), for instance. It happened also in the XVIII° and in the XIX° centuries all across Europe for a number of local conflicts or revolutions.
By now, we are thinking about those who fought in places like the ex-Yugoslavia, in Chechnya or in Afghanistan. People that have been instructed and indoctrinated by some kind of local militia, with combat experience and unknown levels of PTSD.
Dealing with such people raises a lot of questions about our legal systems and their rights, not to mention what could be under the scrutiny of international organizations like UNO or ICJ. At the same time, national authorities have to determine to what extent those people has to be under surveillance, given the chance of a permanent contact with their former allies abroad.
The problem is getting worse year after year. The number of foreign fighters is growing and the number of security alerts tied to the activities of one or more of them in relation to terrorist attacks is skyrocketing. So the basic question is: have those people to be treated as potential enemies, no matter what they do?
This is not a rhetorical question, of course. Western countries have to take a stand about a crucial waypoint in their approach to this problem. It’s not a matter of procedures or some kind of technicality, this is about civil rights and how we can consider those people in the future. The so-called “Guantanamo approach” is not a viable option for European countries.
What about a change in their legal status? A recognized foreign fighter is still to be considered as a normal citizen or it’s more appropriate to classify him/her as a soldier? What about underage foreign fighters?
These are topics to be resolved anytime soon, time is running short.