For two years, authorities have prepared for the day when individuals who may have been involved in international conflicts return to Finland.
Now that day has come, and around Finland multidisciplinary teams comprised of police and social and health care workers will spring into action. They were established within the framework of so-called violent extremism measures in order to monitor and provide support and therapy to people who participated in the conflicts – ideally to prevent them from leaving again.
According to Helsinki Police Commissioner Jari Taponen, Finnish law does not allow for the seizure of an individual’s passport on the grounds that they intend to depart for a war zone or conflict area.
“It is important that we should influence the will behind potential leave-takers in other ways,” says Taponen.
At least one family back from a war zone
The Finnish Security Intelligence Service (SUPO) has confirmed that around forty jihadists have left Finland to fight for Islamic State (IS). Some travelling to IS controlled areas have managed to take their children with them. However, SUPO claims that the number of Finnish children exported to conflict areas is less than ten.
The authorities are maintaining silence about the returns. It has not been revealed to the public whether returning individuals participated in the fighting, and which side they identify with in the conflict is also not public knowledge.
Officials are also reluctant to announce the level of threat that may or may not be posed by those returning from the conflict.
“It can’t be automatically said about conflict participants whether or not they would form some kind of threat on their return,” says SUPO terrorism expert, Tuomas Portaankorva. “As such, the protective services’ task is to evaluate any risk to society posed by each returnee always on an individual basis.”
A new phenomenon in Finland
According to Yle’s sources, at least one family has returned after being in the conflict zone with their children. Exporting a war zone is a child protection issue.
“If the authorities are alerted to concerns that a child is in danger then, without further proceedings, it will become an issue for child protective services” says Commissioner Taponen.
Taponen does not wish to say whether or not there have been any child protection notifications in relation to children exported to Syrian territories at war.
Officials are also reluctant to speculate on the risk of the presently returned families seeking to once again depart for the crisis zone.
“The phenomenon of individuals leaving to and returning from conflict regions is completely new in Finland,” says Taponen. “We have to keep our eyes open and also at present provide the support that an individual needs.”