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Transformative News

Rehabilitation and Reintegration


Why Focus on Rehabilitation?

Building on our vast experience working in rehabilitation and our recent collaboration with IOM Iraq to conduct a comparative analysis of rehabilitation models within four select Muslim-majority states, including Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Pakistan, this months newsletter will focus on rehabilitation, with an eye towards enhancing the general understanding of it as a concept, its gendered dimensions, and the current rehabilitation landscape. 


With capacity and humanitarian issues rendering the detention of violent-extremists in conflict zones to the current scale unsustainable, there is an increasing need for states to repatriate their foreign fighters. By 2015 approximately 40,000 people from over 120 countries had traveled to Iraq and Syria, with around 80% of them joining Daesh. The next few years saw the organization lose a lot of territory. Many sought to return home. This represents an added challenge on top of the problems of domestic militancy which is affecting many states. Neither of these problems are restrained by national borders, making both a regional and global issue. State's and affected populations have contemplated how to respond, weighing the advantages of hard and soft approaches. Given the enduring transnational proliferation of violent-extremism and the equally enduring need for repatriation, rehabilitation and reintegration (R&R) will have to form an increasingly central component of modern efforts at preventing violent extremism (PVE) and building sustainable peace at the local and global level.  


Consequently, the rehabilitation of individuals involved in or supportive of violent-extremism (VE) and their reintegration into society is a security challenge many countries are attempting to address and integrate into their overall PVE strategies. Iraq plans to accelerate its repatriation efforts in line with a deal made with the SDF in 2021, in which Iraq receives 150 families alongside 50 fighters. Radicalization of residents and returnees is a major concern, which Iraq seeks to tackle through a mandatory rehabilitation program in a facility called Jeddah-1 for civilian returnees. Earlier this month, they transferred around 650 civilians, mostly women and children, from the Syrian al-Hol camp (which both the U.S. and Iraq governments consider a threat to national and regional security) to Jeddah-1 in Northern Iraq. Iraq has repatriated around 5,500 civilians via the Jeddah-1 camp. Interviews with people in the facility and community members reveal fears about and issues of stigma, justice, family separation, collective tribal punishment, and reprisals.


This situation and its implications is what this newsletter will address. It will attempt to provide an overview of what R&R is, some main challenges and emerging practices within R&R, and what TP has been working on these last few months. 


What is Rehabilitation?

Fundamentally, rehabilitation is seeking some form of cognitive and/or behavioral change within an individual, with an aim towards both risk-reduction in recidivism and towards reintegration. From there, rehabilitation models can vary quite widely, resulting in unique frameworks, theories of change, and processes. Academics are just as divided, with a general lack of a consensus in the field as to the definition of rehabilitation.


As noted previously, there is no universal model for rehabilitation, and the RAN framework and the approach taken by Indonesia only represents a couple ways of looking at rehabilitation. Another way to look at rehabilitation is as a responsive process linked to processes of indoctrination and socialization. Rehabilitation is conceived of, by (Gunaratna, 2015) as the process by which that indoctrination and socialization is extricated from the individual. 


Perhaps the most important structural difference of rehabilitation programs pertains to their setting, specifically whether they are custodial or non-custodial. In theory, custodial rehabilitation refers to prison-based approaches where rehabilitation occurs within a prison setting with detainee participants. Non-custodial rehabilitation, could still include detainee participants, but does not occur within a prison setting.


In practice, these clear cut distinctions can become blurred and it is best to image custodial and non-custodial rehabilitation as a gradient of difference in which various rehabilitation programs can be plotted. Qualitative questions pertaining to the voluntariness of a program are a major reason for ambiguity in categorization as the lines between voluntary and mandatory are not always black-and-white. For instance, some programs describe participation as voluntary, but nevertheless, have residents who cannot be released. Regardless of the type of rehabilitation, it is important to remember that, as a concept, rehabilitation is deeply intertwined with reintegration. The following section will touch upon reintegration and its connection to rehabilitation.


What is Reintegration?

Reintegration is a process which enables individuals to re-establish the economic, social and psychosocial relationships needed to maintain life, livelihood and dignity and inclusion in civic life as a means to re-enter society. Some components that may accompany this process include vocational assistance, education, psycho-social care, therapy, mentorships, community events, and financial assistance among other possibilities.  

Rehabilitation & Reintegration: Inseparably Linked

Rehabilitation and reintegration are linked concepts. They are best conceptualized as interconnected components of a continuous process. Reintegration starts with and in rehabilitation. The after-care measures that are included within reintegration processes are essential for sustainable rehabilitation and vice versa. For instance, rehabilitation should provide opportunities for individuals to develop practical skills and gain employment opportunities, as this significantly contributes to their successful reintegration back into society. If the individuals who have successfully completed rehabilitation do not have access to the necessary support services, they might struggle to reintegrate and may be susceptible to return to violent extremism. Ongoing monitoring and regular assessments and follow-up care is needed to address any challenges or issues that may arise during the rehabilitation process. 


Rehabilitation has many components. Some of the most central revolve around psychological, social, economic, and religious aspects. In this newsletter, we would like to touch upon a couple aspects in particular in the following section. 


The Human Element

Interpersonal dynamics are central to rehabilitation work on the ground. It is therefore crucial that staff build a constructive relationship with program beneficiaries. Relationship-building is most effective when it is pursued through mutual respect, compassion, and dignity. In interviewing experts for TP’s working paper on rehabilitation, one interviewee described this kind of relationship-building as “the human element”. Centering the human element in rehabilitation is an important part of the change process for program participants. Without it, it can be very difficult to affect positive change within an individual's beliefs, emotions, and behavior. This component of rehabilitation was consistently emphasized within expert interviews and reflected in the best practices for rehabilitation and reintegration. 


Rehabilitation and Gender

Rehabilitation, as with all forms of peacebuilding, requires an intersectional approach. Women and men experience and participate in violent-extremism differently. Consequently, gendered approaches to rehabilitation programming for former fighters are essential for successful reintegration into society. Among important social variables affecting rehabilitation from a gendered lens are the many social biases and cultural norms that can complicate rehabilitation efforts and perpetuate gender inequalities. Rehabilitation programs themselves could, and do perpetuate these inequalities when they neglect women’s agency, marginalize women, and/or fail to account for the gendered dimensions of both female and male recruitment, radicalization, participation, disengagement, and deradicalization. Rehabilitation programs can become gender-tailored by integrating these factors into design and implementation, by empowering women, and by addressing gender norms and biases. 


Measuring Success

It is important that rehabilitation programs have some way of monitoring and evaluating the impact of their interventions, whether they be interpersonal, gender-specific, or revolve around some other dimension. Sometimes evaluating the success of a rehabilitation program can be difficult. Immediately, researchers studying programs might run into transparency and methodological issues. Consequently, it can be difficult to verify the numbers provided by state authorities. Additionally, it is worth considering what these numbers measure and who they refer to. Program success is usually measured by the degree of recidivism observed. Programs held up as successes, like Saudi Arabia, cite very low recidivism numbers.


That said, Saudi Arabia, like many other rehabilitation programs, tends to avoid the inclusion of "hard-core" militants in their programs. For instance the Saudi program has had high success with individuals who were early on in the radicalization process. Their success rate for “hard-core” militants is less significant however. Those hard-core militants account for about 10% of program beneficiaries. 


Alongside recidivism metrics, a variety of indicators can be used to measure success at an individual level however, including, relational, personal, cognitive, and emotional factors. There is not a universal criteria used by all countries or even all programs within a country, but the following image details some general evaluation criteria from some select countries: 

Challenges in Rehabilitation

The first major challenge in rehabilitation is the current political and social landscape surrounding the detention and repatriation of foreign terrorist fighters and the public's attitudes towards them. A few significant challenges stem from these factors, including:

  • Moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding stateless children

  • The dire conditions of detained individuals and families in camps 

  • The prolonged experience of detention

  • The lack of an international legal framework for repatriation, and

  • Community stigma towards returning foreign fighters

Other challenges pertain to the observed characteristics of current rehabilitation programs. Among the most serious is the lack of gender-mainstreaming. Another major concern surrounds matters of stakeholder inclusion and coordination. Specifically, there are issues with the ad hoc nature of many rehabilitation measures, which often fail to integrate the diverse but necessary services of all relevant stakeholders, which can include justice, security, education, legal, and psycho-social services. 


The last service is worth highlighting, as there are concerns about the insufficient availability of psycho-social support in rehabilitation programs, especially in assisting children in overcoming war trauma, which can have severe and long-lasting impacts because of children’s’ developmental stages.


Emerging Practices

While intergovernmental and civil society organizations have produced best practices in both custodial and non-custodial rehabilitation, it is important to note, that no rehabilitation program will or ought to look the same. That said, a range of cross-cultural emerging practices can help guide programs conceptually, interpersonally, and structurally. The following represents some emerging practices deduced from a mix of literature review and expert interviews:

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