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A Need for Community-Based Reintegration and Rehabilitation Programs

An estimated 64,000 women and children with links to Da’esh foreign fighters remain in the Al Hol and Roj camps in northeast Syria, where deteriorating security and humanitarian conditions make them vulnerable to abuse, violence, exploitation, and deprivation. With many global governments on the fence about repatriation despite international human rights law, exposure to the difficult conditions in the camps only serves to reinforce the grievances and injustices that were used by Da’esh to recruit adherents in the first place. For those who are eventually repatriated, the lack of holistic strategy by national governments and focus on securitized approaches serves as a barrier to their successful rehabilitation and reintegration. With the underlying root causes of recruitment still present in host communities, including socio political and economic grievances and marginalization, there is a deep need for community-based approaches to ensure the broad inclusion of returning foreign terrorist fighters (RFTFs) and create concrete alternative pathways to a new life.

Transformative Peace has supported the development of evidence-based, holistic rehabilitation and reintegration programs around the world, from Morocco to the Maldives.


Partnership and collaboration between civil society and government institutions on rehabilitation and reintegration is direly needed. Incorporating the do no harm principle, rehabilitation and reintegration programs must ensure they do not further perpetuate and/or re-victimize those that have faced profound suffering and trauma.

A Gender-Sensitive Approach to Rehabilitation and Reintegration


While women joining violent extremist organizations is not a new phenomenon, it continues to be considered as exceptional. Women returning from VEOs tend to be portrayed as victims, brainwashed, or exploited. This is despite the fact that many women joined Da’esh of their own accord, driven by challenges in their communities of origin such as unemployment and gender inequality, and in many contexts they were just as likely as men to have participated in and witnessed violence. As a result, their specific needs go unrecognized, despite the fact that they are more likely than male combatants to experience distress as a result of perpetrating or being a victim of violence. Their complex set of experiences must be recognized in the rehabilitation and reintegration process.


A gender-sensitive approach to rehabilitation and reintegration requires the recognition that women have agency. In fact, many of them may have experienced greater agency within Da’esh and are now struggling to adjust to more marginalized social roles.



Women should be encouraged to explore different aspects of their identity beyond the constraints typically imposed on them, connect with female role models in their community, and be supported to transcend stereotypes about her gender if that’s something she desires.


Rehabilitation and reintegration programs must recognize and address the distinct social stigma faced by women returnees, as women’s participation in armed groups is typically viewed as a violation of conventional social norms. Finally, programs must recognize and address the gender-specific traumas women may have experienced, such as rape and assault.


Ultimately, the return of foreign terrorist fighters and their families offers an opportunity not only for the rehabilitation and reintegration of the individual, but also for the social transformation of structural dynamics that made these individuals vulnerable to recruitment in the first place. Transformative Peace advocates for a human rights-based approach to rehabilitation and reintegration that recognizes the inherent dignity of all.


 

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