Dozens of young men and children who joined the so-called Islamic State have been released from prison in Raqqa Province after completing rehabilitation programs.
With their release, the former detainees will either join civil society work via the Raqqa Civil Council or return to school depending on their age.
This is to provide them with a more steady living and opportunities for the future in the hope that re-integration into society rather than societal isolation will help avoid recidivism and further radicalisation.
“We hope that young people return to schools and universities,” said one of the program leaders. “Those who are looking for a job can resort to an employment office in Raqqa’s Civil Council and it will help find jobs for all of you.”
Another tribal sheikh, standing in front of the young men, also said how he hopes that “the earlier thoughts and opinions that you had with ISIS will not resurface”.
Ahmed Issa, one of the former ISIS militants who undertook the program, joined the group when he was 14 years old. Like many, he was indoctrinated into the group’s ideology. However, he credits the initiative and says he received good treatment, including for an injury sustained during the fighting.
Although only 35 former militants took part – those released by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the conglomeration of Arab and Kurdish fighters who captured the city of Raqqa in mid-October 2017 – this represents a promising model for societal reintegration, especially for young men, in other parts of Syria.
Other rehabilitation initiatives have taken place in the town of Mare’a near the city of al-Bab, which was captured by Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups in February this year.
Touted as the first counter extremism centre in Syria, the program set up in Mare’a splits militants into three levels based on their participation and background in the group. For the coordinators, this was to ensure that former fighters aren’t just lumped together potentially acting as an extremist ideological incubator, but to ascertain each militant’s individual path to radicalisation and tailor their engagement accordingly.