The Reintegration Imperative: Child Returnees in the Western Balkans
Since 2012, 1,070 nationals of Western Balkan countries traveled to live and fight in territories controlled by terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq. Of those, about 200 were minors at the time of departure. Over the years, many more children were born to Western Balkans nationals in the Syrian and Iraqi conflict theater. As of end-2019, some 485 individuals had returned home, making the Western Balkans the region with the highest concentration of returnees from Syria and Iraq in Europe. Hundreds more, mostly minors, remain trapped in precarious conditions in Syria, with uncertain prospects of repatriation. Numerous countries are grappling with what to do with nationals that traveled to live and fight in the so-called Islamic State (IS) “caliphate.” However, experience in and understanding of what facilitates effective engagement with returnees from Syria, particularly child returnees, is at its early stages. This Policy Note provides recommendations on ways to approach the rehabilitation and reintegration (R&R) of child returnees in the Western Balkans, combining emerging good practices with the guiding principles of conventions, treaties, and protocols focused on the rights of children.