Author: Asya Metodieva
- Put an emphasis on reintegration instead of criminalization;
- Tailor responses to the returnees based on their motivations to join IS, motivations to return and gender/age dynamics;
- Engage local religious, family and school communities in the process of reintegration;
- Address push factors such as poverty, inequality, and economic insecurity.
The Islamic State (IS) will remain a threat in 2018, experts say. Thousands of foreign fighters are now coming back to their home countries following the collapse of the so-called “caliphate”. From the around 900 people from the Western Balkans who have travelled to Syria and Iraq between 2011 and 2016, 250 have already returned. Despite the different reasons for doing so, returnees raise security concerns, to which local governments should respond.
The key challenge for security actors is how to assess the threat posed by former IS combatants and their families. Although returnees have not contributed to the threat of terrorism locally, they create some degree of risk, not only to the Western Balkans but also to Europe as many returnees have dual citizenship or links to their diaspora communities across the continent.
There are at least three criteria to consider in developing policies. First, returnees vary in their motivations to travel to the battlefield. Second, they are coming back home for different reasons. Third, gender/age characteristics matter. Thus, a tailored approach to each returnee is necessary.
This policy paper addresses the issue of returning foreign fighters to the Western Balkans by analysing the threat and the response. It discusses key actions that local authorities should consider. Recommendations here derive from existing strategies and approaches in other states. “Hard” measures such as prosecution and detention have been already applied by the countries in the region. However, individual risk assessment, as well as “soft” policies like rehabilitation and reintegration, are becoming essential to address the problem in the long term.
Central European governments should consider a more active role in the region by supporting local governments in dealing with the issue of returning foreign fighters. The Visegrad Four states should support the dialogue between Western Balkan countries (especially between Serbia and Kosovo), and to encourage more active security information sharing among the Western Balkans states, and with the EU. Central European countries have also the capacity to assist in reintegration policies and addressing push factors for radicalization in the region.
Photo: Vedran Smailović playing in the partially destroyed National Library in Sarajevo in 1992 | Source: WikimediaCommons / Mikhail Evstafiev (CC BY-SA 2.5)