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Research Summary Paper:Rehabilitation Emerging Practices in Muslim Majority Countries

June 2023

Dr. Houda Abadi

Austin Langdon

This summary research report was produced for the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It was prepared by Transformative Peace, a mission-based consultancy that specializes in inclusive peace processes; women, peace, and security; and human rights-based approaches to preventing violent extremism. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of IOM.


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 prevention of violent extremism (PVE) strategies. The lack of a coordinated, comprehensive, and legal international human-rights-based framework to the foreign fighter phenomenon has resulted in various measures, some more repressive or limited than others. Countries affected by VE have explored a diverse range of approaches to rehabilitation with varying levels of institutional support, structural rigor, and success. Closely examining a select number of rehabilitation case studies can reveal important insights about rehabilitation practices and processes, including best emerging practices and main challenges.

To better understand rehabilitation models in Muslim-majority countries, the following four countries: Morocco, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia were selected. These varied rehabilitation models can help illuminate what does and does not work in contemporary rehabilitation programs and the nuances that must be considered when assessing program successes and failures. These case studies are geographically diverse enough that collective insights can be generalized across countries, while remaining culturally and contextually similar enough to be applicable to the Iraqi context. At the same time, these are all Muslim-majority countries affected by VEO proliferation, influence, and activity. These countries do not exhaust the range of rehabilitation frameworks or possibilities, but they sufficiently represent the prevailing content, emerging practices, and obstacles to rehabilitation programs among Muslim-majority countries.

Methodology and Scope

To identify effective interventions to enhance rehabilitation efforts in Iraq, our analysis made use of four case studies from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Morocco. These case studies are examined with the intent to derive insights, common challenges, and emerging practices that can be translated across national and cultural contexts. These Muslim-majority countries were selected due to their diversity, geographic representation, and established rehabilitation programs.

The key objectives of the study include the following:

Key Objectives:

  1. Identify prevailing interventions, emerging practices, and challenges in custodial and noncustodial rehabilitation programs.

  2. Examine key components of rehabilitation programs, including classification and risk assessment, psychosocial services, the role of civil society, and aftercare.

  3. Examine the needs and challenges of returning women and youth and barriers to their rehabilitation and reintegration.

  4. Draw lessons which could inform future policy and program implementation in Iraq.

To better understand the complexity and evolving dynamics of rehabilitation programming in the aforementioned countries and identify effective interventions and emerging practices, a mixed methods approach was employed consisting of an in-depth literature review, semi-structured interviews with experts and practitioners in the field of rehabilitation and reintegration, and findings from regional expert symposium.

Desk Review

The desk review had four primary high level research objectives: 1) provide critical analysis of the existing literature on rehabilitation and reintegration programs for returned foreign fighters and their families, with a primary focus on Morocco, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan; 2) examine the needs and challenges of returning women and their children; 3) provide contextual data that can orient the interviews; and, 4) draw lessons to inform policy recommendations. The literature review started with examining the different kinds of rehabilitation, and definitional dilemmas before exploring the contents, challenges, and successes of the various rehabilitation models examined in the comparative analysis. Building upon a brief theoretical analysis, these varied rehabilitation models are used to help illuminate the effectiveness and the challenges of the rehabilitation programs as well as the nuances that need to be considered when assessing program successes and failures. The Moroccan, Pakistani, Saudi, and Indonesian models are well positioned to reveal important insights about key components of rehabilitation, including classification and risk assessment, the role of civil society, after-care, and the fundamental ingredients of rehabilitation across contexts, which could be useful to inform research evidence-based strategy for rehabilitation programs in Iraq.

Semi Structured Interviews

In addition to the desk review, twelve in depth interviews were conducted with experts and practitioners across the selected countries to provide valuable perspectives on effectiveness of existing rehabilitation and reintegration programs and their limitations, challenges faced by programs in different cultural, social, and political contexts; the role of government and other stakeholders in supporting rehabilitation and reintegration programs; and lastly, opportunities for improving existing programs. These experts come from various backgrounds including researchers, practitioners, and government officials. The interviews were conducted either face to face or via video conferencing. They were semi structured in nature, allowing for open ended and follow-up questions to explore perspectives of the participants. The data collected was transcribed, coded, and categorized into key themes and subthemes.

Expert Symposium:

Another yet to be included source of information in the final research report is the upcoming symposium organized by IOM Iraq that will take place on July 9-10. The symposium will serve as a valuable platform for sharing and engaging in detailed discussions about our key findings with a diverse group of experts. This will significantly aid in refining our understanding and adding to the data collected. Insights garnered from these discussions will be integral in enhancing the quality of the final research report.

Engaging in Rehabilitation: A Comparative Approach

As is the case with violent-extremism, problems associated with a lack of rehabilitation measures, or the poor design and implementation of them, transcends borders. Rehabilitation, as with every other component of PVE and peacebuilding, needs to be culturally sensitive and tailored to a country's needs and emerging challenges. While a range of cross-cultural good practices can be deduced, no two rehabilitation programs will, or should, look identical. Importantly, we may learn important lessons across different regions and understand in more depth the challenges that rehabilitation programs face. International memorandums provide insights into emerging practices such as the Rome Memorandum and the Marrakech memorandum, highlighting the need to centralize human rights and to tailor rehabilitation and reintegration programs to the individual.

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 (GTCF, 2012). The approach a specific country takes with respect to that process can vary. Importantly, there are a variety of types of rehabilitation which affect the process at a fundamental level. In general, rehabilitation models can be divided into two main categories: custodial and noncustodial rehabilitation models. 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. A variety of organizations have created guidelines, training programs, and best practices for conducting custodial rehabilitation. As per non-custodial programs, the OSCE released a guidebook in 2020, but it is oriented towards south-east European contexts (OECD, 2020). While lessons can be learned, the guidelines are not completely transferable to a MENA context. A few principles that all non-custodial programs should have, according to the OECD guidebook, include the following:

  • Multi-actor and multi-sector involvement,

  • Without ignoring the role of ideology, rehabilitation should exhibit a greater focus on disengagement and changing behavior rather than changing beliefs,

  • Community engagement is critical to success from a rehabilitation and reintegration perspective.

  • Rehabilitation programs need to recognize and address the unique needs of women and children,

  • Rehabilitation efforts should look towards existing capacities but emphasize capacity building where necessary, and

  • Rehabilitation programs need to incorporate a clear theory of change.

When it comes to custodial rehabilitation, the literature identifies a couple of important characteristics of effective custodial programs. The Rome Memorandum on Good Practices for Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Violent Extremist Offenders emphasizes that “rehabilitation programs have the best chance of succeeding when they are nested in a safe, secure, adequately resourced, and well operated custodial setting where the human rights of prisoners are respected.” This position is reinforced by several studies and intergovernmental organizations. The UN Handbook on the Management of Violent Extremist Prisoners and the Prevention of Radicalization of Violence in Prisons reiterates this point identifying humane conditions as the most important ingredient within custodial rehabilitation (p.2). Along with humane conditions that respect the rights and dignity of detainees, the literature on rehabilitation and recidivism also places special importance on establishing a state of normalcy (Bosley, 2019).

The custodial examples within this paper align with these documents and diverge from them in a number of important ways. In alignment with the importance placed on humane custodial conditions within the literature, some programs have made it a priority in their custodial rehabilitation programs. Morocco for instance has adopted a new strategy for the 2022-2026 period focusing on the improvement of conditions for prisoners with the aim of facilitating reintegration and reducing recidivism (Anouar, 2022). Similarly, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia's programs put a lot of effort into ensuring that participants feel a sense of normality throughout the process. This not only helps open participants to rehabilitation and facilitate trauma healing, but it also facilitates reintegration by reducing alienation and promoting prosocial behavior (Bosley, 2019). Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, however, have examples of non-custodial rehabilitation, which are more effective at cultivating a sense of normalcy. However, the lines between voluntary and mandatory are not always black-and-white. Some programs describe participation as voluntary, but nevertheless, have residents who cannot be released. That said, participation is still not mandatory. The basis of participation for the four countries examined here can be described as follows:

Saudi Arabia: The Saudi program is voluntary, but participation is heavily incentivized. Incentives include financial assistance, release, and social support including wedding and family support. Access to numerous benefits in respect to quality of life and financial and familial support are some of the ways that militants are incentivized to enroll. The participants, however, are not simply free to leave. They have a mandatory 8-12 week stay which could end in release depending on whether they pass the psychological evaluation necessary for release. For those that do not pass, they are monetarily compensated for each day ($267 USD) they are not released following that date. The exception is for those who have been charged with committing terrorist acts. Following rehabilitation, they still must serve their sentences (Speckhard, 2020). The program lasts generally 1 year.

Morocco: Despite being a custodial program, participants in the Mousalaha program are enrolled on a voluntary basis. The voluntary nature of the program is contextualized by the fact that the program is conducted within a prison setting, however. While graduating from the program does not earn participants an early release, they do receive a royal pardon upon graduation. The program has a 4-month time frame.

Indonesia: Membership criteria in the rehabilitation programs within Indonesia are varied, with some custodial interventions within prisons and some within social centers. This has been pointed out as a potential reason for low-enrollment in the Indonesian example, but the state, like Saudi Arabia, provides incentives for enrollment, especially through family support mechanisms, which includes income-generating activities, financial assistance, and socialization. In contrast to the others, the Indonesian program has no set general timeframe.

Pakistan: Militants who surrender to the Pakistani military voluntarily and are ready to renounce militancy are placed within a rehabilitation program. Like Saudi Arabia, the militant participants in Pakistani rehabilitation centers are not permitted to leave before the program is completed (Basit, 2015). The Pakistani program, given local and demographic specificities, can last anywhere between six months and two-three years.

Mapping Similarities Across Case Studies

The case studies revealed a number of key commonalities among the examined countries which can provide insights into how to structure rehabilitative interventions. For instance, all of the models understand their work through three essential lenses: 1) psychological interventions; 2) social interventions; and 3) religious interventions. Some models envision these interventions through an explicit three-pronged approach while others add other related dimensions, like in Pakistan and Indonesia. Nevertheless, they all revolve around those three essential domains. The following represents a breakdown of the key domains for each country's rehabilitation models:


Saudi Arabia






















(Pakistan ***The key domains/components of Pakistani rehabilitation are highly dependent on the administrating actors running the program.)

In the Moroccan model, this is conceptualized as “reconciliation with the self, with religious texts, and with society” (Ahmadoun, 2019). The language of identification and education used within the Indonesian model conforms to these three basic dimensions as well, with psychological rehabilitation, religious dialogue, and social reintegration forming the basic skeleton of the de-radicalization process. In line with this dimensional similarity, these programs share a lot of the same program activities, especially religious dialogues, which are of central importance in all the programs. Other shared activities include lectures and workshops. At the same time, some of the models offer a greater range of activities than the others. The non-custodial among the case studies typically incorporate more activities across more dimensions than custodial ones, including therapeutic, vocational, social, and affective activities.

To varying degrees, all of the examined countries also pursue both deradicalization and disengagement through at least some elements of their programs, regardless of whether they are custodial or non-custodial. Custodial programs, since they occur within prisons, could face increased difficulties in deradicalization however, given the stronger association between the program and the state. This could affect the credibility of messengers and the message itself. Both behavioral and cognitive-affective interventions form a part of rehabilitation in each country even if this is not the explicit language used by the program. While not all of the examined countries employ “reformed radicals'' in their rehabilitative programming, the consensus on the utility of employing them was observed as a key similarity among interviewees. Findings from expert interviews revealed that experts generally saw the use of reformed radicals as beneficial due to their overall positive influence on beneficiaries and communities, but only when properly methodologically integrated. Due to their knowledge and prior experience in violent extremism, reformed radicals may have the tools to question violent extremist ideologies, challenge violent extremist narratives and engage in reflective discussions.

While comparative analysis can help reveal emerging practices and potentially cross-contextual aspects, what works in one area may not always work in another. One of the most important differences centers around resources and capacity. For example, (Basra, 2022) notes the unlikelihood that the Saudi approach could be translated across national contexts. Replicating their approach would be difficult for many countries due to the social, institutional, and financial resources that the Saudi Kingdom can effectively mobilize that other countries may not. The Saudis, for instance, can mobilize a large amount of knowledgeable and credible religious interlocutors, including over 150 clerics and scholars. Their perceived distance from the Saudi government also helps preserve a sense of credibility in the eyes of participants. The Saudi approach is very expensive and employs hundreds of staff to perform a range of functions, including monitoring and programmatic interventions. (Ibid). From a financial point of view, this approach may not be entirely replicable for states with less financial resources.

The structure of each respective program is a critical difference across case studies and also relates back to capacity. Each country varies on the level of inclusion for civil society and the degree to which they represent a whole-of-government and whole-of-society effort. Compared to the institutional structures of the other examined models, the Saudi program is perhaps the best example of a whole-of-government approach. The Saudi government has committed to a whole-of-government approach to combating extremism, rooted in a national strategy composed of prevention, rehabilitation, and after-care (PRAC) priorities. These strategies are organized under the ministry of Interior but are considered the responsibility of everyone throughout society. It is expected that the whole state apparatus makes a concerted effort, “from schools and mosques, to local and provincial administrations, the mass media, and social service providers and organizations (Boucek, 2008). What is missing in its institutional web however is the strong participation of civil society. The Indonesian model, in contrast to the Saudi model, better exemplifies a collaborative relationship between civil society and government, something which has been improving dramatically since the establishment of a NAP. Under the NAP, Indonesia places special importance on the role of CSOs, to a degree unmatched by the other examined models. CSO’s under this structure are key design and implementation actors, and directly enact many of the initiatives at the grass-roots level. Within the institutional structure they are represented among the expert groups and in the secretariat. The Pakistani model is more limited to specific sectoral involvement.

While conceptual focus is an area of similarity to some regard, it is also an important area of difference between the case studies. Their differences come in the form of what accompanies ideological reform as one of the program's conceptual focuses. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan each place equal importance upon personal development, including development in emotional, cognitive, social, economic, and skills dimensions. While all intend to re-negotiate questions of identity, Indonesia makes identity-management an accompanying conceptual focus as well. Another important distinction between programs is their time frame, scope and setting. Importantly, both Morocco and Indonesia are examples of custodial rehabilitation, seeking to rehabilitate detainees in a prison setting. In contrast, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan take a non-custodial approach to rehabilitation, conducting rehabilitation activities in centers and educational facilities.

Out of these comparisons, a couple of challenges and emerging practices emerge. The examination of the selected countries points to a couple practices in rehabilitation that worked quite well, including: whole-of-government and/or whole-of-society approaches, the use of reformed radicals, humane treatment in custodial programs, and the incorporation of community-based feedback mechanisms. These case studies also highlighted some central challenges in rehabilitation however, including: non-state capacity building, cultivating space for CSO involvement, a lack of gendered and individualized interventions, or family tailored programming, and resource-heavy incentive structures. It is the intent of this paper to shine a light on these emerging practices and challenges, so that future programs can benefit from the insights generated through comparative analysis.

Interview Findings and Analysis

Navigating Theory and Practice: Between Disengagement and Deradicalization

Comparing interviewee responses with the literature review reveals important areas of convergence and divergence. While many findings are equally expressed within the literature and among practitioners, the areas of difference illustrate the tendency for theory and practice to diverge in key areas of importance. One of the most critical points of divergence with respect to rehabilitation and reintegration is the tendency among practitioners to conflate concepts of deradicalization and disengagement, which the literature clearly demarcates. Within the literature, disengagement refers to behavioral change, while deradicalization refers to ideological change. While deradicalization and disengagement are related, they are two different concepts which make use of different resources, assets, and theories of change. However, interviewees have been conflating these two approaches. This has implications for the theory of change implemented by practitioners and for communicating rehabilitation strategies and outcomes to the public.

This speaks to a complicated relationship between theory and practice that this study seeks to highlight and navigate. For example, some practitioners described the challenges in explaining to the community that these individuals have disengaged but might still be ‘radical.’ This will affect the community’s buy-in to address stigma and encourage reintegration. Similarly, it may be the case that practitioners on the ground face issues that are not sufficiently accounted for by academics, or practitioners may be under-informed on relevant theory, something that multiple interviewees have noted. For instance, one Indonesian expert[3] commented that many practitioners “learned from doing” throughout the rehabilitation process rather than working from a strong theoretical foundation with conceptual and empirical rigor. Some of our findings represent points of convergence between theory and practice, while others represent key points of divergence. Some of the strongest findings in the study are in those critical points of convergence, while we seek to reconcile theory and practice in the points of divergence to enhance discussion and clarity.

The Human Element: Restoring Trust and Dignity

A major and consistent theme among interviewees was what one interviewee[4] referred to as “the work of the heart.” By this, her and other interviewees communicated the central importance of the individual relationships between staff and beneficiaries which ought to be based upon respect, dignity, and kindness. Within the literature, this phenomenon is referred to as non-complementary behavior and explains the psychological and relational effect of unexpectedly compassionate behavior where hostility would otherwise be given and expected (Rosin, 2016). This has a number of critical benefits. Firstly, it acts as a shock to beneficiaries, who as members of VEO’s are most likely expecting negative treatment on the part of actors they affiliate with a state or society they consider corrupt and antagonistic. This shock creates psychological and emotional space within the cognitive-affective systems of the individual, making attitudinal and behavioral change more likely, especially around out-groups, which is the most important variable within extremist belief systems. Secondly, it is a major asset in trust and confidence building, helping program staff develop positive and constructive relationships with beneficiaries.

This approach centers what VEO’s have focused on in their own messaging and recruitment strategies: emotional appeals. As researchers like (Abadi, 2019; Malet, 2013) have observed, emotional appeals are particularly useful in VEO recruitment, including ones focusing on personal and collective respect and dignity. Rehabilitation practitioners have observed something similar in their efforts to promote exit from violent-extremism, which is the importance of building relationships from a place of respect and dignity, which can be translated into positive emotional connections with staff and improved attitudes towards the state. In her study on community-based PVE, (Abadi, 2019) highlighted the neglect of emotional appeals as a crucial shortcoming in current PVE approaches, citing the inadequacy of current approaches that “focused entirely on rational appeals, devoid of the emotional manipulation that makes recruitment efforts so powerful” (pg. 19). This includes working with beneficiaries' families while they are still completing their jail sentence. As one interviewee[5] stated, “when you work with their (detainees) families and children, they feel better and adopt a more positive attitude towards a state institution that they used to not trust. Now they see that this institution, a state institution, actually cares about the future of their children so it starts to build some trust and positive attitude towards state institutions. There’s basically an emotional linkage that we try to do when we focus on the children. Building together a community where concerns are shared creates not only an emotional language but also they start to think of ‘we’ instead of us and them”.

The human element can be extended to touch upon the importance of supportive social networks as a critical element of sustainable rehabilitation and reintegration. This includes families, friends, peers, and mentors. A number of interviewees across the examined countries noted the beneficial influence of mentors on participants. Interviewees noted the importance of getting the mentors of inmates comprehensively involved. As one interviewee[6] stated: “An encouraging social network may be just as important as these targeted aftercare strategies for lowering recidivism rates. This may include having access to mentoring and peer support programs, as well as community and family support.” This human element is also critical during the reintegration process.

Reintegration as Critical Continuum to Rehabilitation

Perhaps the most important commonality across case studies and throughout the interviews is the interconnectedness between rehabilitation and reintegration conceptually and in practice. Experts from various countries discussed the need to build in a robust reintegration program for successful rehabilitation. Effective reintegration programs can assist individuals in building positive relationships, finding employment, and establishing a sense of purpose and belonging, which can all reduce the risk of recidivism. This was reflected in the designs of the programs and the broader literature. Morocco’s Mousalaha program for instance connects rehabilitation and reintegration through a myriad of community and virtual initiatives. As one interviewee[7] from Morocco noted, “We believe that the person who was detained represented a symbolic capital to the household…The entire family becomes impacted. While it is an individual case, in reality, it’s a collective one. The family is involved too. The kids do not have a normal childhood and do not get to have the same experiences as the rest of the kids. We want them to have a normal childhood, even when their dad, for instance, is still in prison. By working with the families of the detained, we are breaking this emotional barrier and showing humanity to the detainees.”

As this previous quote demonstrates, families and community leaders are among the most crucial social network nodes and, therefore, play a critical role in rehabilitation and reintegration. Both act as credible and robust influences on individual thinking, emotional well-being, and behavior, with the latter being essential to a broader social change. Key to that influence is their social capital. Understanding forms of social capital, including linking and bonding capital[8], helps underscore the importance of community leaders and broader social networks to successful rehabilitation and reintegration programming. Families are recognized as crucial to rehabilitation and reintegration in both the literature and interviews and form a component of some programs in all the examined countries. Community leaders are essential as well, facilitating community buy-in and community ownership. Community leaders play a crucial role in reducing stigma during reintegration, facilitating attitudinal and environmental changes conducive to rehabilitation and reintegration, and helping programs pursue their economic, social, and political components.

Challenges and Limitations

Given the strong social dimension of rehabilitation and reintegration, the de-stigmatization of rehabilitated individuals is a central concern and a key challenge in the individual’s successful reintegration. It is key to reducing recidivism and making rehabilitation outcomes positive and sustainable. Families are a vital component of this, both as a source of stigma themselves and as an avenue for wider de-stigmatization. A CSO working with former detainees in Morocco described the need to deploy conscientious language that does not further stigmatize and also work first with families who sometimes refuse to accept them back into the community as they bring shame.

As interviewees attest, community-based events can play an essential role in de-stigmatization. As one Pakistan expert[9]notes “People who have ‘de-radicalized’ themselves frequently talk about the role that volunteering and involvement played in their decision to abandon extremist beliefs. Community events, volunteer work, and friendships with moderates are all good ways to do this.” De-stigmatization efforts incorporate a lot of the recommendations expressed by interviewees and emerging practices found in the literature which will be further explored in the following sections and is generally crucial to reintegration. As one interviewee[10] notes “Overall, the success of these [rehabilitation] programs relies heavily on gaining community buy-in and lowering social stigma associated with the reintegration of individuals who have undergone deradicalization and rehabilitation. These programs in Pakistan aim to reduce social stigma and promote successful reintegration through engagement with community leaders, support for families and friends, vocational training, and community participation in the rehabilitation process.” However, interviews highlighted that among the most significant challenges in reintegrating former detainees is securing employment, with the primary two challenges being overcoming social stigma and criminal record. To overcome these challenges, former detainees need comprehensive support that provides them with the necessary resources and skills where economic assistance and reducing community stigma is built into the rehabilitation programs, recognizing that the needs of men and women who have been involved in violent extremism may differ significantly.

Gendered Approaches to Rehabilitation: Are We There Yet?

Rehabilitation programming for former fighters is a complex and challenging process that requires careful strategic interventions to prevent recidivism and promote successful reintegration. Gender biases and restrictive cultural norms can significantly impact the effectiveness of rehabilitation programs, particularly for women. Program interventions may also be based on gender stereotypes and cultural norms, assuming that women are passive victims rather than active participants. This can lead to underestimating women's role in VEOs and overlooking the need for tailored rehabilitation programs that address women's unique needs and vulnerabilities. These stereotypes can also lead to the perception that women are incapable of engaging in entrepreneurship and other income-generating activities, which can limit their opportunities for successful reintegration into society, further perpetuating gender inequalities.

While the rehabilitation programs differ in how thoroughly and effectively they integrate gender, the desk review and interviews highlighted the need for greater gender mainstreaming. Existing programs were first designed to meet the needs of male inmates, neglecting the specific needs and vulnerabilities of women and only later, in some cases, integrating women to some degree. In other cases, interviewees shared gendered interventions that limited women’s agency and reinforced restrictive cultural norms. The failure to gender mainstream approaches to rehabilitation tends to translate into systemic support discrepancies between male and female beneficiaries. In Indonesia, for instance, women did not benefit from small grants and entrepreneurship opportunities that are available to men, which may hinder the overall success of rehabilitation efforts. Similarly, while men are placed within deradicalization programs tailored to the needs of individuals involved in violent extremism, women are placed within general programs with no specific VE focus. So not only are female terrorist inmates not engaged in any gender-sensitive manner, but the state also fails to engage with them in a sufficiently VE-sensitive manner. Pakistan is the only country examined that has a female-specific rehabilitation center that includes women who are either ex-VEO affiliates or the family members of one. Research participant interviewee[11] states, "Female radicals in Pakistan can now receive specialized help through the Women's Deradicalization Program, which was established by the government. Both one-on-one and small-group sessions are provided, with the latter focusing on teaching critical thinking skills and the former on dismantling extremist worldviews. The government claims that the program has been effective in assisting women in leaving extremist ideology and returning to mainstream society."

Most approaches view women through a maternalistic lens, integrating gender into rehabilitation primarily through understanding their roles as spouses and mothers. The Saudi and Pakistani models are good examples of this. Generally speaking, Saudi programming which targets women operates under a maternalistic logic that tends to limit women within traditional gender norms. The Tranquility program, for example, offers training to parents, and mothers in particular, in recognizing signs of radicalization. This program calls upon women within the domestic sphere to perform gendered roles in the interest of prevention and reintegration. Pakistan's integration of gender has followed a similar line as the Saudi. For instance, the internationally funded local NGO PAIMAN work with women as the first line of defense against radicalization, as their caregiver roles position themselves as "the first to recognize signs of resignation and anger in children" and "when their sons, daughters, or husbands exhibit tell-tale signs of violent ideologies" (Brown, 2020). This strategy operates under the assumption that mothers are the primary ones shaping youth values.

VEOs may also exploit these biases and recruit women to play critical roles in their organizations. Women may be coerced into joining VEOs or may join voluntarily due to economic or social pressures. Once recruited, women may be subjected to sexual violence, forced marriage, and other forms of abuse. Women involved with VEOs may face additional challenges in the rehabilitation process, including stigma and discrimination from their communities. For example, an interviewee from Morocco[12] stated, "What we realized is that stigma for women is much more intense and can create more harm for women than for men. Many times men divorce women due to stigma. They might remove her children, and her family might not accept her. She might be unable to work in society and face more gender restrictions."

At the same time, stereotypical gender norms and roles constrain women, sometimes trapping them within VE networks through their uncritical relationship with male relatives, particularly husbands. Some of the interviewees highlighted a difference between married and unmarried women. In these instances, married women sometimes have internalized social norms that restrict their agency and opportunity to fully disengage because of the social and ideological pressure to obey their husbands. In these instances, women who have deradicalized, or become disillusioned, cannot disengage, and pave a new life path for themselves.

Role of CSOs

One of the most serious challenges in rehabilitation centers around the relationship between the state and civil society. Collaboration with CSOs is a problem for rehabilitation programs in many countries. This can be seen within the related field of reintegration as well, indicating a general problem of civil society and government partnership within these areas. In some countries, such as Morocco, securitization has led to the fear of being seen as supportive of terrorism resulting in a high degree of hesitancy among CSOs to meaningfully engage in rehabilitation and reintegration assistance. Most Moroccan CSOs who work in thematic areas adjacent to rehabilitation and reintegration tend to focus on countering radical speech (Renard, 2019). The literature and interviews both speak of the need to involve diverse elements of civil society, such as independent religious leaders, families, community and tribal leaders, experts, NGOs in the field of rehabilitation and aftercare processes.

The relationship between civil society and government is crucial to long-term rehabilitation success. CSOs are well positioned to address concerns related to community stigma and reintegration of former violent extremists due to their proximity, local knowledge, and experience working with these communities. As legitimate actors who possess credibility and trust within the local community, CSOs must be empowered to work on reintegration without fear of security repercussions. The literature and interviews both speak to the importance of CSOs in this respect. In some of the case studies, like Indonesia, this element is positively evolving, and interviewees spoke about a need for further space and capacity building. Given the centrality of stigma-related concerns, CSOS must take a leading position in community-based approaches to rehabilitation and be well placed to facilitate job placement and successful reintegration.

Independent M&E

Ongoing monitoring and evaluation, including regular assessments and follow-up care, are essential components in the rehabilitation field. However, monitoring and transparency concerns seem to intersect as a central challenge in the study of rehabilitation programs. Because of this, it can be difficult to independently verify state claims around recidivism and rehabilitation success. Across case-studies, problems relating to monitoring and evaluation make recidivism rates generally hard to corroborate, which is a criticism that has been specifically levied against Saudi Arabia’s program (Holmer & Shtuni, 2017), but should not be restricted to it. CSOs can and do perform monitoring and evaluation functions, but within the current landscape, security, access, and capacity concerns limit the success of this approach. For instance, in Indonesia, groups like YPP and C-Save perform monitoring functions, but one of their main challenges is their ability to consistently check in with beneficiaries that live far away. The accumulative consequence of these shortcomings in government and civil society result in an evidence base that is less than sufficient for independent verification of major rehabilitation related claims.

Emerging Practices and Recommendations

Rehabilitation of former violent extremists is a complex and sensitive process that calls for an ‘all of government’ and ‘all of society’ approach. For long term meaningful impact, security measures should complement reintegration and aftercare processes. A comprehensive, gendered, and individualized plan that takes into account the unique needs, risks, and circumstances of each individual is crucial. Based on the literature and interviews, a non-exhaustive list of preliminary emerging practices are listed.

Humane Treatment

While this is a general recommendation, it is most critically emphasized with respect to custodial programs. Whether referencing “the work of the heart” or material conditions, interviewees and the wider literature both highlight the importance of humane conditions and treatment to successful rehabilitation and reintegration.

Local Community Ownership and Sustainability

The need for community ownership and cultural sensitivity is something that was another recommendation equally expressed in both the interviews and the literature. This is vital for generating buy-in, building positive relationships, and creating sustainable platforms for individual and social change that builds a sense of community. It is a participatory approach that is better suited to addressing key concerns like stigma, attitudinal change, and reintegration. As noted by interviews and observed within the literature, family is also a key element in local ownership and sustainability. While family care is integrated into all of the examined programs to varying degrees, there are several family related concerns related to rehabilitation and reintegration. One interviewee[13], for instance, notes the influence of spouses, particularly husbands, on rehabilitated women. Patriarchal social norms are an added complication in women’s rehabilitation which has a very strong familial component.

Reintegration as a Built in Component for Successful Rehabilitation

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.

Providing Psycho-Social Support &Trauma Responsive Care

Psycho-social care is a fundamental aspect of rehabilitation. Staff must be aware of the psychological and social complexities in an individual’s exposure to violent extremism and their exit from it. This process is an emotionally and psychologically complex one that can be influenced by a person’s mental and emotional health. An added layer of complexity emerges with individuals who have been exposed to violence, either as a perpetrator or a victim. Psychological responses to violence have a demonstrable impact on attitudes towards rehabilitation and reintegration (Redlich Revkin & Kao 2022), highlighting its psycho-social importance at the individual and environmental level. In addition, interviewees and the wider literature, point to the importance of trauma care in rehabilitation, especially among youth and FTFs returning from conflict zones. Rehabilitation programs would benefit from incorporating trauma-sensitive care into their programming. In both psycho-social support and trauma-specific care, a major challenge in programming will relate to capacity, particularly with the level of training for staff. This is why capacity-building programs are an important part of psycho-social and trauma-specific care.

Gendered Approaches

Gendered approaches to rehabilitation programming for former fighters are essential for successful reintegration into society. Interviews highlighted how gender biases and cultural norms can complicate rehabilitation efforts and perpetuate gender inequalities. Rehabilitation programs themselves could perpetuate these inequalities through disparities in access to grants along gendered lines, something an expert[14] in women’s rehabilitation noted as a particular challenge within the interviews. Effective rehabilitation programs must be tailored to address women's differential vulnerabilities and ensure they have access to the resources and support they need to reintegrate into society successfully. This ought to include sensitivity to gendered push and pull factors, including marital status or exposure to sexual violence and their sometimes complicated status as either perpetrators, victims, or both. By recognizing these challenges and implementing gender-sensitive approaches, rehabilitation programs can ensure that all individuals, regardless of gender, have access to the resources and support they need to reintegrate into society successfully.

Appendix A: Visual Graphs of Rehabilitation Programs

Figure 1 Moroccan Rehabilitation Model

Figure 2 Saudi rehabilitation Model

Figure 3: Pakistani Rehabilitation

Figure 4 Indonesian rehabilitation Model

Appendix B: Bibliography

Abadi, Houda (2019). “Community Approaches to Preventing Violent Extremism: Morocco as a Case-Study.” Newsline Institute. Retrieved from:

Ahmadoun, Souad (2019). “Morocco’s Failure to Reintegrate Former Jihadis.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Aslam, Mohd Mizan & Zubaidah Abu Bakr, Siti (2020) “Terrorist Deradicalization Programs in Saudi, Yemen and Malaysia.” International Journal of Islamic and Civilizational Studies

Basit, Abdul (2015). “Pakistan’s Militant Rehabilitation Programme: An

Overview.” Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses

Basra, Rajan (2022). “Review of Evidence: Prison-based interventions

targeting violent extremist detainees.”


Boucek, Christopher (2008). “Saudi Arabia’s “Soft” Counterterrorism Strategy: Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Aftercare.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Brown, Katherine E. (2020) Gender, Religion, Extremism : Finding Women in Anti-Radicalization. New York, New York: Oxford University Press

C-SAVE (2019) “Institutionalizing Gendered Rehabilitation through Civil Society Government Collaboration.” C-SAVE

Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF) Knowledge Hub (2023) International Center for Counter Terrorism.

GTCF (2012) “Rome Memorandum on Good Practices for Rehabilitation and

Reintegration of Violent Extremist Offenders.”

Holmer, Georgia and Shtuni, Adrian (2017) “Returning Foreign Fighters and the Reintegration Imperative.” United States Institute of Peace

Majalat (2021) “Morocco: The Moussalaha programme reconciles radicalised prisoners with society.”

Malet, David (2013) “Foreign Fighters: Transnational Identity in Civil Conflicts.” Oxford University Press

OECD (2020). “Non-custodial Rehabilitation and Reintegration in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization That Lead to Terrorism: A Guidebook for Policymakers and Practitioners in South-Eastern Europe.” Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Redlich Revkin, Mara & Kristen Kao (2022). No Peace Without Punishment? Reintegrating Islamic State “Collaborators” in Iraq. The American Journal of Comparative Law

Renard, Thomas (2019) “Returnees in the Maghreb: Comparing Policies on Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters in Egypt, Morocco, and Tunisia” Egmont

Rosin, Hanna., (2016). “How A Danish Town Helped Young Muslims Turn Away From ISIS.” NPR

[1] This summary research report was produced for the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It was prepared by Transformative Peace, a mission-based consultancy that specializes in inclusive peace processes; women, peace, and security; and human rights-based approaches to preventing violent extremism. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of IOM. [2] The key domains/components of Pakistani rehabilitation are highly dependent on the administrating actors running the program. [3] An academic with expertise in Indonesian rehabilitation and reintegration (interviewed on 4/17/23). [4] A general expert on rehabilitation and reintegration who has worked on rehabilitation programs in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Pakistan, Maldives, Libya, Philippines, and South America (interviewed on 4/6/23). [5] Expert on Moroccan rehabilitation from the Mohammed VI foundation (interviewed 5/15/23). [6] An expert on violent-extremism and rehabilitation in Pakistan with experience working in task forces, educational centers, and working groups (interviewed on 3/07/23) [7] Expert on Moroccan rehabilitation from the Mohammed VI foundation (interviewed 5/15/23). [8] Bonding capital refers to the social capital within in-groups while linking capital refers to social capital between people and institutions. [9] An expert on violent-extremism and rehabilitation in Pakistan with experience working in task forces, educational centers, and working groups (interviewed on 3/07/23) [10] An expert on violent-extremism and rehabilitation in Pakistan with experience working in task forces, educational centers, and working groups (interviewed on 3/07/23) [11]An expert on violent-extremism and rehabilitation in Pakistan with experience working in task forces, educational centers, and working groups (interviewed on 3/07/23) [12] Expert on Moroccan rehabilitation from the Mohammed VI foundation (interviewed 5/15/23). [13] Indonesia expert on women’s radicalization, rehabilitation, and reintegration (interviewed on 4/20/23) [14] An expert on women’s rehabilitation in Indonesia, interviewed on (04/20/23)

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