Georgia Holmer and Adrian Shtuni

Returning Foreign Fighters and the Reintegration Imperative

U.S. Institute of Peace

a desert soldier and woman hugging with their backs to the camera

Various countries, especially in the Balkans and North Africa, now face the challenge of managing the return of their citizens who have fought in the Iraq and Syria conflicts. As of early December 2016, for example, at least eight hundred of the more than six thousand Tunisian nationals categorized as foreign fighters have returned home, as have more than one hundred Bosnians, 117 Kosovans, and eighty-six Macedonians.1 According to official data, eight hundred nationals of these three Balkan countries have traveled to Iraq and Syria since 2012.2 In some cases, returnees are defectors from the movement they joined and have come home disillusioned and disappointed. Others have returned but remain committed to violent action and extremist beliefs. The authorities are faced with effectively identifying, triaging, and managing this potential threat at the same time that they allow space for rehabilitation and successful reintegration into society. The terms rehabilitate and deradicalize are often used interchangeably to refer to cognitive disassociation from a violent group identity and ideology. Reintegration refers to the reestablishment of social, familial, and community ties and positive participation in society. Developing successful reintegration programs is crucial not only to preventing recidivism among returnees but also to mitigating further radicalization among the youth population and building overall community-level resilience to violent extremism.