Returning Foreign Terrorists: Kosovo Seeks to Integrate ‘ISIS’ Returnees Back Into Society

Written by | Wednesday, October 2nd, 2019

While thousands of foreign supporters of the so-called ‘Islamic State’ (IS) are being held in Kurdish camps in Syria, most European countries refuse to repatriate them, with one exception – Kosovo. As the country’s director of public security, Mensur Hoti, explains, during a secret operation under cover of darkness earlier in April, a chartered plane landed in the capital Pristina, bringing 110 Kosovar citizens – returnees from the ‘IS’ – back home. 32 women and 74 children were brought for medical and psychological examination in the Vranidol arrival center and four men were sent to the high-security prison Podujeve.
“We should have in mind that in the last months they suffered a lot. They were in the camps with a lot of problems: No food, no hygiene, and other issues,” says Hoti, adding that the hardest part of working with IT returnees is “the ideology part”. The ‘Islamic State’ – also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh – is an al-Qaida splinter group with a militant Sunni Islamist ideology whose goal is to create a worldwide “caliphate”. Valbona Tafilaj and a team of 20 psychologists and psychiatrists accompany the returnees on their way back into Kosovar society. Everyone was traumatized when they returned home, says the lively psychologist. “They came from a war zone. They experienced cruel crimes and heavy bombardments.”
Tafilaj’s main task is to win the trust and confidence of the former jihadi and ‘IS’ supporters, which will facilitate his efforts to reintegrate former jihadi and ‘IS’ supporters into the society. The psychologist is proud that all children over the age of six were able to start school in September. To prepare them for school life, they took part in trips to amusement parks and climbing gyms. When asked whether she considers some of the 32 IS female returnees to still pose danger to the society, Tafilaj declines to answer on grounds of medical confidentiality.
So do the returnees pose a security risk? With less than 2 million inhabitants, the small Balkan state has seen the highest number per capita among all European countries leave to join the so-called caliphate. While the figure in Kosovo is estimated to top 400 individuals, by contrast, an estimated 1,050 jihadists from Germany with 82 million inhabitants left to join ‘IS’. But, unlike Kosovo, Germany, France and the UK continue to oppose the idea that they bring back their citizens from formerly IS-held territories in Syria and Iraq, with only a few rare exceptions having been granted for children.

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