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Migration and Home Affairs
Expert opinion

Manual for Responses to returning foreign terrorist fighters and their families 2nd Edition, 2022


Publication date
9 December 2022
Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs
RAN Publications Topic
  • Deradicalisation/disengagement and exit work
  • Family support
  • Foreign Terrorist Fighters and their families
  • Islamist extremism
  • Multi-agency cooperation
  • Rehabilitation


European citizens who travelled to Syria, Iraq and other conflict zones where terrorist groups have taken control have been coming back since 2012. Since the defeat of the so-called caliphate in early 2019, a large number of Daesh fighters have been captured by Kurdish forces and detained in north-east Syria, including many women and children. This situation has triggered serious dilemmas amongst policymakers and public opinion regarding the management of these captured foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and family members, not least with regard to the necessity and opportunity for repatriating them, in light of the risk they could pose upon return.

Since 2019, only a limited number of European FTFs and family members have managed to return, and some to be repatriated. However, the fate of the remaining FTFs in the area remains uncertain. It is unclear, for instance, whether they should or could be prosecuted locally, and how long they could be detained safely in the region. Potentially, more FTFs and family members could still come back in the future, hence justifying continuous attention to the issue. Furthermore, a significant number of returnees are still in prisons across Europe and will be released in the coming years. One way or another, the issue of FTFs and the management of returnees will remain a policy priority for the foreseeable future.

This manual outlines responses to FTFs and their families, returning or planning to return to their home countries within the EU, from terrorist conflict zones such as Syria and Iraq. When the term “returnees” is used in this manual, it refers to FTFs and their families (women and children). The first edition of this manual had been commissioned by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs, in order to support Member States in their preparations to manage the return of FTFs from Syria and Iraq. Five years later, the time has come for an update of the original manual. Firstly, because the situation in Syria and Iraq has changed considerably, with the fall of the so-called caliphate and the detention of hundreds of European FTFs and their families in the region.

As a result, it is important to continue preparing for the possible return of some of these individuals, and particularly the children. Secondly, because Member States have further consolidated their responses to returnees over the past few years and therefore more good practices could be identified and highlighted in this revised edition of the RAN Returnee Manual.

This manual highlights responses from the perspectives of practitioners, academics and policymakers as listed in the Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) database and is to be considered as part of the broader set of responses to returning FTFs (including measures with a security focus such as criminal justice or administrative measures). It sets out general approaches to be adapted to the relevant specific situation in individual Member States while taking into account that competences and structures within national, regional and local governments differ

Responses to returning foreign terrorist fighters and their families 2nd Edition cover


Responses to returning foreign terrorist fighters and their families 2nd Edition, 2022