OP-ED/The debate about ISIS camps

OP-ED/The debate about ISIS camps

This article has been written for Albanian Free Press newspaper and www.albanianfreepress.al

By Plator Nesturi

Prime Minister Rama dismissed rumors that a camp would be set up in Albania for former ISIS fighters who have fought in Iraq and Syria and who would be gathered in a country outside of the European Union. Rama considered these as pure fantasy, although important European media outlets have written about this. In fact, not a lot of space has been dedicated to this story in the Albanian media and no real analysis has been made on this issue.

This issue is not something new. Around two months ago, while there were mostly rumors about the setting up of a new camp for Iranian mujahedeen who have moved to Albania, there were also rumors that the expenses also covered the setting up of another camp somewhere in the district of Kruja. Although there have not been official confirmations, rumors were that a camp would be set up to accommodate families of former ISIS fighters. After these fighters were joined by their families in Syria and Iraq, when forces fighting against ISIS advanced, these families remained stuck there. This is why there is a decision to gather these families in a camp outside the war zone. However, at that time, it was not said that former ISIS fighter would also be accommodated in this camp. Nevertheless, this story never made it to the headlines and was soon forgotten.

Meanwhile, new developments occurred. US State Department and CIA reports mentioned Albania as a country where there’s a “threat from extremism”. This was the first time when they did not specify what type of extremism this was, religious or any other type; ethnic extremism, for instance. This threat from extremism also started to be articulated by EU officials and Albanian officials. More attention was also given to the issue of refugees coming from war zones, who could set up a route in the Albanian territory. However, except for some sporadic cases of Syrians crossing the border from Greece, the reports that were coming did not raise any concerns regarding this matter.

Prime Minister Rama also visited Vienna about this issue. In the presence of the Austrian president and along with other regional leaders, they discussed the issue of refugees and the way they could be accommodated, without enabling them to continue their journey to EU member countries. Immediately after this, a conference dubbed  “Against Extremism” is held in Tirana. Besides the Prime Minister of Bulgaria, the conference also saw the participation of the Saudi Arabia crown prince and the Jordanian prince.  These two countries and other countries of Middle East, have issued laws forbidding those who have fought for ISIS to return to their country of origin and in case they are caught there, they would face prison.

Immediately after this, foreign media started to talk about the setting up of a camp which would welcome in Albania former ISIS fighters in the Middle East. Despite the fact that Albanian authorities have dismissed this, the news has been published and this led to the Albanian opposition to brand the country a “waste bin for ISIS” and that parliament should decide on this issue, not the government.

The chronology of declarations and events leads us to believe that something is truly happening. But there’s a big difference between setting up refugee camps and camps for former foreign fighters who have joined ISIS. So far, the idea of the camp for former fighters has been denied. While talking about the setting up of a center against extremism in Albania, Prime Minister Edi Rama explains that this is a center for research, programs, analyses, interaction and that it has nothing to do with gathering people in a camp. If this is all there is, then all this noise being made about camps being set up in Albania is like a bubble. However, given that these matters are never decided by being transparent with the public, the opposition will do its job and someone else will just nod and smile.

Note: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Albanian Free Press’ editorial policy