Security and Defence

Reports and papers

The foreign fighters phenomenon in the EU

31 Mar 2016 - 14:17
Source: zabielin / Flickr

EU Member States should develop rehabilitation and reintegration programmes to deal with convicted foreign fighters as well as returning foreign fighters. For an effective implementation of these programmes, Member States should also invest in training of, for instance, prison personnel, as well as prepare municipalities to deal with increasing numbers of returnees. Given the emerging trend of rapid radicalisation, Member States are also advised to constantly review and, where necessary, amend the current policies and recalibrate their early-warning mechanisms.

These are the main recommendations of a new report of the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT), presented at April 1, 2016 in press centre Nieuwspoort. The report describes the foreign fighters phenomenon in the European Union, in terms of profiles, threats and responses at both the EU and national level. The report was commissioned by the Netherlands National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) on the occasion of the Dutch Presidency of the Council of the European Union. 

Data collection
The report is based on an extensive collection of data in response to a questionnaire sent to all Member States, as well as open source material and expert consultations. Nine member states were selected for a more in-depth analysis. Through these data ICCT provides a close look at the number and key characteristics of foreign fighters in the member states. The report charts the situation regarding foreign fighters and the security, preventive and legislative responses within the European Union. It also examines developments on EU responses to the phenomenon of foreign fighters. The insights provided in this report could enhance European cooperation in this field.

Facts and figures
Many Member States consider returning foreign fighters (30% of the foreign fighters contingent) as a serious potential threat for their national security. Although there is no clear-cut profile of a European foreign fighter, some salient elements are identified: an average of 17 % female foreign fighters, the largest number seems to originate from urban areas, a significantly high percentage of converts to islam, and a possible connection with mental health issues. Belgium has the highest per capita number of foreign fighters, and France the highest absolute number.

About ICCT 
The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism - The Hague (ICCT) is an independent think and do tank providing multidisciplinary policy advice and practical, solution-oriented implementation support on prevention and the rule of law, two vital pillars of effective counter-terrorism. ICCT is supported by a unique partnership comprising three renowned institutions based in The Hague: the T.M.C. Asser Instituut, the Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’ and the Institute of Security and Global Affairs / Leiden University.