Within the framework of the UNICRI Counter-Terrorism Programme, a Regional Technical Workshop entitled “Responding to the Threat of Returning Foreign Terrorist Fighters” was jointly organized by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI) and the Republic of the Philippines in Manila on 3-5 August.
As part of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF), UNICRI organized the Workshop as a response to United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178 which called for cooperation among Member States in relation in relation to the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters. The meeting was opened by Mr. Felizardo M. Serapio, Jr., Undersecretary and Head, Law Enforcement and Security Integration Office, Office of the Executive Secretary, Office of the President, Republic of the Philippines and Ms. Cindy J. Smith, Director of UNICRI.
According to the United Nations Security Council Expert Group Report on the issue released earlier this year, more than 25,000 foreign fighters from over 100 countries have travelled to fight in recent conflicts. Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan experience the largest numbers but other destinations include Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Pakistan and Somalia. It is also estimated that 20 – 30% of these foreign terrorist fighters have already returned home.
Returning foreign terrorist fighters may have been exposed to all aspects of violent extremist ideology and lifestyle, many may have acquired combat experience and may have seen – or even participated in – atrocities. Some may have joined groups and networks that plan future attacks, in their home countries or third countries, while others may be traumatized and require medical attention. Almost all, however, will be significantly alienated and, whether convicted of a crime or not, will require comprehensive rehabilitation and reintegration in order to return to society without presenting a potentially enduring significant threat.
UNICRI has developed and fostered considerable expertise in the area of rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist offenders, and the Institute plays a key role in supporting Member States in translating the generalized good practices identified in the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum (GCTF) Rome Memorandum, which specifically addresses the rehabilitation needs of incarcerated violent extremists, into national policies.
Going forward, the workshop in Manila has laid the foundations of a platform for the regional exchange of experiences, best practices and information with regard to the threat posed by returning foreign terrorist fighters and the existing responses implemented so far. This platform will also support Member States in analyzing such threats, assessing existing responses and both designing and implementing effective rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for returning foreign terrorist fighters, which effectively engage key actors such as families, civil society and the full range of government entities.