Far From Home

Overcoming the Challenges to Repatriating Foreign Women Who Joined the Islamic State

In the wake of the Syrian civil war, al Qaeda regrouped and rebranded itself as the Islamic State, eventually capturing key cities in Northern Iraq and Syria and amassing large swaths of territory. Targeting young Muslim women and exploiting their feelings of alienation in the West was central to the Islamic State’s recruiting strategy. The women who traveled from the West to join the Islamic State were lured by a slick propaganda machine and promises of marrying a fighter or living in a utopian religious state. Most are believed to have been between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five. Although women represent a relatively small portion of foreign recruits, they represent the majority of those imprisoned and detained in camps where they—as well as their children—suffer from malnutrition, exposure, contaminated drinking water, and lack of access to medicine and medical care.

As the Syrian Democratic Forces find themselves in geopolitical limbo, a long-term solution to this humanitarian and security crisis is acutely needed. This Note argues that the legal and policy approaches that Europe and the United States have taken are inadequate to address the security and humanitarian crisis resulting from the prolonged detention of their female citizens who joined the Islamic State. Conventional law and policy responses do not take into consideration the complex roles of women in the Islamic State. This Note concludes that the United States and European countries should actively repatriate citizens who joined the Islamic State to address the detainee crisis in Syria and to promote regional stability.

a. J.D. Candidate 2021, University of Illinois College of Law; B.A. 2016, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Special thanks to Professor Patrick Keenan for his insight and guidance, to the editors, members, and staff of the University of Illinois Law Review for their careful editing, and to my parents for their unwavering support and encouragement.

The full text of this Note is available to download as a PDF.