The Repatriation & Reintegration Dilemma: How states manage the return of foreign terrorist fighters & their families


  • Ingram Haroro J. George Washington University
  • Coleman Julie The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT)
  • Doctor Austin C. University of Nebraska Omaha
  • Margolin Devorah George Washington University


Foreign Fighter, Reintegration, Repatriation, Policy


This study analyzes the interplay of factors which drive states’ approaches to the repatriation and reintegration of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs) and their family members. The literature is dominated by descriptive studies of state policies that tend to explain states’ failure to repatriate and reintegrate citizens as the result of deference to governments’ national security decisions. Our study builds on these foundations to offer the scholarly and policy fields both a framework to explain why governments adopt distinct policy postures, and a means to enable these same actors to engage in more systematic analysis and development of repatriation and reintegration policy. This study argues that a balance of four considerations are crucial for explaining state behavior in this policy context: (i.) the scope of the issue, including the number of citizens considered FTFs or affiliated persons, geographic proximity, and access to the conflict, (ii.) existing legal basis for repatriation and reintegration, (iii.) instrumentalization for institution building, and (iv.) programming strategy for repatriation and reintegration. As a pilot study, this paper applies the framework to assess cases of the United States, the Netherlands, Kosovo, and Iraq. As FTF management issues are not a relic of the recent past but a persistent policy concern that warrants more nuanced and forward-looking attention, this study also considers the continued application of the framework to explore the different ways in which states may balance these four considerations in policy design and practice in the future.


Abbas, Mo. 2019. “Trump warns U.S. allies to take back captured ISIS fighters.” NBC News.

AIVD. 2014. “The Transformation of Jihad in the Netherlands.” General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands (Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst, AIVD).

AIVD. 2022. “Travelers and Returnees (Uitreizigers en terugkeerders).” General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands (Algemene Inlichtingen- en Veiligheidsdienst, AIVD).

Asser Institute. 2020. “[Analysis] Dutch Supreme Court Rules on the Group Repatriation of the Families of IS Fighters: ‘We Expect More Individual Court Cases Will Now Be Started.’” June 26.

Avdimetaj, Teuta and Julie Coleman. 2020. “What EU Member States can learn from Kosovo’s experience in repatriating former foreign fighters and their families.” Clingendael Policy Brief, May.

Beslin, Jenna and Marija Ignjatijevic. 2017. “Balkan foreign fighters: from Syria to Ukraine.” European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), June.

Benton, Meghan and Natalia Banulescu-Bogdan. 2019. “Foreign Fighters: Will Revoking Citizenship Mitigate the Threat?” Migration Policy Institute, April 23, 2019.

Bhuller, Manudeep, Gordon B Dahl, and Katrine V Løken. 2022. “Policies to Reintegrate Former Inmates Into the Labor Force.” University of California San Diego. Accessed March 3, 2022.

Bolhuis, Maarten P. and Joris van Wijk. 2020. “Citizenship Deprivation as a Counterterrorism Measure in Europe; Possible Follow-Up Scenarios, Human Rights Infringements and the Effect on Counterterrorism.” European Journal of Migration and Law. 22, 3, 338-365.

Braun, Kerstin. 2020. “Prospects and challenges of prosecuting foreign fighters in Australia.” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Counter-terrorism Policy Center.

Bytyqi, Kujtim and Sam Mullins. 2019. “Returnee Foreign Fighters from Syria and Iraq: The Kosovan Experience.” CTC Sentinel, 12(7), pp. 25-30.

Cook, Joana and Gina Vale. 2018.“From Daesh to 'Diaspora': Tracing the women and minors of Islamic State.” International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, King’s College London.‘Diaspora’-Tracing-the-Women-and-Minors-of-Islamic-State.pdf

Cook, Joana and Gina Vale. 2019. “From Daesh to ‘Diaspora’ II: The Challenges Posed by Women and Minors After the Fall of the Caliphate.” CTC Sentinel. 30-46.

Dedeken, Chiara, and Kevin Osborne. 2021. “Repatriating FTFs from Syria: Learning from the Western Balkans.” RESOLVE Network. October 2021.

Doctor, Austin. 2022. “Making the most of foreign volunteers in Ukraine.” War on the Rocks. March 7.

Dominguez, Florencio. 2004. “ETA: An Analysis of the Situation (ETA: un análisis de situación).” Cuadernos de Pensamiento Político (Political Thoughts Journal). October - December.

European Asylum Support Office (EASO). 2020. “Iraq: Treatment of Iraqis with Perceived Affiliation to ISIL.” October.

European Commission, 2020, Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council, The Council, The European Economic & Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on the EU Security Union Strategy (EU Security Union Strategy 2020-2025). Brussels, 24 July 2020.

Farrall, Leah. 2020. “The Fall of the ISIS ‘caliphate.’” Parliament of Australia.

Farrell, William B., Rustam Burnashev, Rustam Azizi, and Bakhtiyar Babadjanov. 2021. “Processes of Reintegrating Central Asian Returnees from Syria and Iraq,”, United States Institute for Peace. Special Report NO. 498. July.

Garbarino, James, Amy Governale, and Danielle Nesi. 2020.“Vulnerable Children: Protection and Social Reintegration of Child Soldiers and Youth Members of Gangs.” Child Abuse & Neglect. February 14.

Gaynes, Elizabeth. 2005. “Reentry: Helping Former Prisoners Return to Communities.” The Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Gerechtshof Den Haag. 2019. ECLI:NL:GHDHA:2019:3208,

Harnisch, Chris. 2020. US Mission to the OSCE §

Hardy, Keiran and George Williams. 2016. “Australian legal responses to foreign fighters.” Criminal Law Journal, 40(4), pp.196-212.

Halliday, Eric and Rachael Hanna. 2021. “How the Federal Government Investigates and Prosecutes Domestic Terrorism.” Lawfare, February 16.

Harnisch, Chris. 2020. US Mission to the OSCE §

Hoffman, Adam and Marta Furlan. 2020. “Challenges posed by returning foreign fighters.” Program on Extremism, The George Washington University. March.

Hoge Raad (Supreme Court) of the Netherlands. 2020. ECLI:NL:HR:2020:1148,

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

Houthuijs, Paulus. 2021.“Ilham B. back in the Netherlands: 'Probably more IS women will follow.'” NOS. June 6.

Human Rights Watch. 2019. “Thousands Detained, Including Children, in Degrading Conditions.” July 4.

Hughes, Seamus and Devorah Margolin. 2019. “The Fractured Terrorism Threat to America” Lawfare. November 10.

Hurley, Julia C. 2020. “Coronavirus and Isis: The Challenge of Repatriation from Al-Hol.” United States Institute of Peace, May 28.

International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, National Security Advisory of Iraq and IOM. 2022 “Roundtables on Prosecution, Rehabilitation and Reintegration.”

International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation Team. 2018. “From Daesh to ‘Diaspora’: Tracing the Women and Minors of Islamic State.” July 23.

Imamova, Navbahor and Asim Kashgarian. 2021. “US, UN Officials Hail Uzbekistan's Repatriation of IS Families.” Voice of America. May 19.

Ingram, Haroro J., Craig Whiteside, and Charlie Winter. 2020. “The Islamic State’s Global Insurgency & its Counterinsurgency Implications.” International Center for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague, Evolutions in Counter-Terrorism, Vol. 2 November.

Isufi, Perparim. 2022. “Kosovo Failing to Rehabilitate Terrorism Convicts in Prison, BIRN Finds.” Balkan Insight. March 10.

Kennedy, Merrit. 2019. “Judge Rules That U.S.-Born Woman Who Joined ISIS Is Not A U.S. Citizen” NPR. November 15.

Koehler, Daniel. 2016. “Right-Wing Extremism and Terrorism in Europe: Current Developments and Issues for the Future.” PRISM.

Love, Margaret Colgate. 2022. “The Reintegration Report Card.” Collateral Consequences Resource Center. March.

Malet, David. 2017. Foreign Fighters: Transnational Identity in Civil Conflicts. Oxford University Press.

Maley, William. 2021. “How Joe Biden failed the people of Afghanistan – and tarnished US credibility around the world.” The Conversation.

Malkki, Leena and Juha Saarinen. 2019. Jihadism in Finland. Finland Ministry of the Interior.

Margolin, Devorah and Austin Doctor. 2022, “Thousands of men, women, and children remain in detention because of their former ties to ISIS.” The Washington Post.

Mehra, Tanya and Christophe Paulussen. 2019. “The Repatriation of Foreign Fighters and Their Families: Options, Obligations, Morality and Long-Term Thinking.” International Center for Counter-Terrorism. October 15.

Mehra, Tanya. 2022. “The Repatriation of Five Women and Eleven Children from Syria: A Turning Point in the Netherlands?” International Center for Counter-Terrorism.

Mehra, Tanya. 2018. “Bringing (Foreign) Terrorist Fighters to Justice in a Post-ISIS Landscape Part II: Prosecution by Foreign National Courts.” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism.

Méheut, Constant. 2021. “Pressuring France to Bring Them Home, Women Who Joined ISIS Stage Hunger Strike.” The New York Times, February 21.

Meleagrou-Hitchens, Alexander, Seamus Hughes, and Bennett Clifford. 2018 “The Travelers American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq.” Program on Extremism, The George Washington University.

Millen, Raymond A. and Noa Seligsohn. 2021. “Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Program for Military Practitioners.” Army War College. U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, July.

Ministry of Justice of the Netherlands. 2022. “Parliamentary Paper No. 626.”

Mironova, Vera. 2021.“The Challenge of Foreign Fighters: Repatriating and Prosecuting ISIS Detainees.” Middle East Institute, January.

Muggah, Robert and Chris O’Donnell. 2015. “Next Generation Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration.” Stability: International Journal of Security & Development 4, no. 1.

Mumford, Andrew. 2021. “Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) after Proxy Wars: Reconceptualising the Consequences of External Support.” Third world quarterly 42, no. 12.

Mustasaari, Sanna. 2020. “Finnish Children or ‘Cubs of the Caliphate’? Jurisdiction and State ‘Response-ability’ in Human Rights Law, Private International Law and the Finnish Child Welfare Act.” Oslo Law Review.

Nemr, Christina, Lara Nonningere, Eva Entenmann, Fulco van Deventer, and Bibi van Ginkel. 2018. “‘It Takes a Village: An Action Agenda on the Role of Civil Society in the Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Those Associated With and Affected by Violent Extremism.’” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism. Global Center on Cooperative Security, August.

Newland, Kathleen. 2017. “Migrant Return and Reintegration Policy: A Key Component of Migration Governance.” International Organization for Migration. The UN Migration Agency.

NOS,. 2022a. “Nederland Haalt Vijf IS Vrouwen en Hun Elf Kinderen Terug uit Syrie (The Netherlands is Recalling Five IS Women and Their Eleven Children from Syria).” February 3.

NOS. 2022b. “Rechter bevestigt: ophalen IS-vrouwen noodzakelijk voor vervolging.” May.

Peresin, Anita, Melisa Hasanovic, and Kujtim Bytyqi. 2021. “Female Returnees from Syria to the Western Balkans: Between Regret and ‘Caliphate Nostalgia.’” Perspectives on Terrorism, University of Leiden, October.

Petcu, Cristina. 2020. “Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Programming With Colombia’s Youth.” Stimson Center, July.

Peltier, Elian and Constant Méheut. 2021.“Europe's Dilemma: Take in Isis Families, or Leave Them in Syria?” The New York Times, May 28.

Program on Extremism. 2022. “Travelers: American Jihadists in Syria and Iraq Dataset.” , The Program on Extremism, at The George Washington University.

Perteshi, Skender and Shpat Balaj. 2021. “Community Perceptions on Violent Extremism and Repatriation of Kosovo Citizens from ISIS Battlegrounds.” Kosovar Centre for Security Studies.

Perteshi, Skënder and Ramadan Ilazi. 2020. “Unpacking Kosovo’s Response to Returnees from the War Zones in Syria and Iraq.” Kosovar Centre for Security Studies.

Perteshi, Skënder. 2020. “Foreign Fighters and Kosovo’s Diaspora: The Case of Germany.” Kosovar Centre for Security Studies.

Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN). 2021. “Family Members and Children of Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTFs).”

Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN). 2019. “Study Visit: Returned Women and Children – Studying an Ongoing Experience on the Ground.” December 20.

Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN). 2017. “RAN Manual, Response to returnees: Foreign terrorist fighters and their families.” Radicalisation Awareness Network, June.

Regional Cooperation Council. 2021. “Repatriation From the “Caliphate” Highlights Jihadist Presence in Finland.”

Roithmaier, Kilian. 2019. “Germany and Its Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters: New Loss of Citizenship Law and the Broader German Repatriation Landscape.” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, April 18.

Remzije Istrefi and Iliriana Islami. 2017. “Incorporation of international human rights into national legislation: The case of Kosovo.” SEER Journal for Labour and Social Affairs in Eastern Europe.

Republic of Kosovo, Ministry of International Affairs. 2017. “National Strategy Against Terrorism and Action Plan 2018 – 2022.” November.

Republic of Kosovo Assembly. 2015. “On Prohibition of Joining the Armed Conflicts Outside State Territory.” March 12.

Ruf, Maximilian and Annelies Jansen. 2019. “Study Visit. Returned Women and Children–Studying an Ongoing Experience on the Ground.” Ex Post Paper, Radicalisation Awareness Network.

Sandelowsky, Chrisje M. and Ton Liefaard. 2019. “De verantwoordelijkheden van Nederland voor kinderen met een Nederlandse link in voormalige IS-strijdgebieden bezien vanuit het internationale kinderrechtenperspectief (The responsibilities of the Netherlands for children with a Dutch link in former IS conflict zones from an international children's rights perspective).” Nederlands Tijdschrift voor de Mensenrechten: NJCM-Bulletin, 44(3), 306-325.

Schuberth, Moritz. 2017.“Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration in Unconventional Settings: The Case of MINUSTAH’s Community Violence Reduction.” International peacekeeping 24, no. 3 (2017): 410–433. January 9.

Setyo, Widagdo, Indrayanti Kadek Wiwik, and Ayu Nanda Saraswati Anak Agung. 2021. “Repatriation as a Human Rights Approach to State Options in Dealing with Returning ISIS Foreign Terrorist Fighters.” Sage Open 11, no. 3. July.

Shtuni, Adrian. 2021. “Rehabilitation and Reintegration Path of Kosovar Minors and Women Repatriated from Syria.” International Republican Institute Report.

Shtuni, Adrian. 2019. “Western Balkans Foreign Fighters and Homegrown Jihadis: Trends and Implications.” Combatting Terrorism Center (CTC).

Soufan Center. 2019. “Open Letter from National Security Professionals to Western Governments: Unless We Act Now, the Islamic State Will Rise Again.”

Tessières, Savannah de. 2021. “Effective Weapons and Ammunition Management in a Changing Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Context.” United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations.

The New Arab. 2022. “UN calls Syria’s al-Hol refugee camp a ‘ticking time bomb.’”

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Counterterrorism. 2020. “Country Reports on Terrorism 2020.” December.

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Counterterrorism. 2018. “Country Reports on Terrorism 2017.” September 9.

U.S. Department of State. 2017. “Country Reports on Terrorism 2017 - Kosovo.”

USAID Bureau for Conflict Prevention and Stabilization, Office of Transition Initiatives. 2020. “Demobilization, Disassociation, Reintegration, and Reconciliation in Northeast Nigeria.”

St. Vincent, Sarah. 2021. “In Shamima Begum Case, UK Supreme Court Dismisses Rights and Overlooks Potential Victimhood.” Just Security, February 26.

United Nations Migration (IOM). 2022. “Working to Set an Example on the Global Stage: Iraq, UN and International Community Discuss Way Forward on REturn of Iraqis from Syria’s Al-Hol.” April 10.

United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI). 2022. “Statement of H.E. Ms. Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq.” April 9.

United Nations Office of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT). 2021. “Launch of the Global Framework for United Nations Support on Syria / Iraq Third Country National Returnees.”

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178, S/Res/2178. 2014.

United States Department of Justice (DOJ). 2022a. “American Woman Who Led ISIS Battalion Charged with Providing Material Support to a Terrorist Organization.” January 29.

United States Department of Justice (DOJ). 2022b. “Jury Convicts ISIS ‘Beatle’ for Role in Hostage-Taking Scheme that Resulted in the Deaths of American, British, and Japanese Citizens.” April 14.

United States Department of Justice (DOJ). 2021. “ISIS Militant Pleads Guilty to Role in Deaths of Four Americans in Syria.” September 2.

United States Department of Justice (DOJ). 2020. “The United States Has Repatriated 27 Americans from Syria and Iraq Including Ten Charged with Terrorism-Related Offenses for Their Support to ISIS.” Press release, October 1.

Van der Heide, Liesbeth and Bart Schuurman. 2018. “‘Re-integratie van delinquenten met een extremistische achtergrond: evaluatie van de Nederlandse aanpak (Reintegration of Offenders with an Extremist Background: Evaluation of the Dutch Approach).” Institute of Security and Global Affairs (ISGA) University of Leiden.

Van Ginkel, Bibi, and Eva Entenmann (eds). 2016. “The Foreign Fighters Phenomenon in the European Union: Profiles, Threats & Policies.” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism.

Van Wilgenberg, Wladimir. 2022. “Iraq to repatriate 500 families from Syrian camp holding thousands with ties to ISIS.” Kurdistan 24, April 8.

Vidino, Lorenzo, Aglaya Snetkov, and Vivio Pigon. 2014. “Foreign fighters: An overview of responses in eleven countries.” Center for Security Studies (CSS Studies).

Vilkko, Taimi. 2021. “Evaluating the Nordic Countries' Response to Repatriation of Women and Children Affiliated with Isis.” The Gender Security Project, October 25.

Ward, William E. 2011. “The Foreign Fighters Problem, Recent Trends and Case Studies: Selected Essays.” Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

Wassenaar, F. Discriminatie van IS en Al-Nusra-strijders bij intrekking Nederlanderschap in Unierechtelijk perspectief.

Wautelet, Patrick R. 2016. “Deprivation of Citizenship for 'Jihadists' Analysis of Belgian and French Practice and Policy in Light of the Principle of Equal Treatment.”

Welna, David. 2019. “Trump Rules Out Sending Captured ISIS Fighters To Guantánamo Bay.” NPR, September 20.

Wintour, Patrick. 2021. “US pushes France and UK to take Isis fighters back from Iraq and Syria.” The Guardian, June 28.

Wittendorp, Stef, R. de Bont, Edwin Bakker, and J. de Roy van Zuijdewijn. 2017. “Measures against Jihadist Foreign Fighters: A policy comparison between the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, the UK and the US (2010 to 2017).” ISGA.

Yacoubian, Mona. 2022. “Al-Hol: Displacement Crisis is a Tinderbox that Could Ignite ISIS 2.0.” United States Institute of Peace, May 11.