TUNISIA – Tunisia is wavering between strict penitentiary policy and citizen reintegration programs for Tunisian foreign fighter returnees who have come back to the North African country as prisoners following fighting with organizations like the Islamic State terror group in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Libya.
About 1,000 Tunisian foreign fighters have returned to Tunisia from conflict zones; 800 are presently imprisoned and 200 have been set free under judicial supervision, according to the Tunisian Institute of Strategic Studies (ITES).
“For those who have gone beyond the point of no return in terms of violence or in radical ideology, it is very difficult to talk about social reintegration,” researcher at ITES, Fakhreddine Louati, told EFE.
“But as for the rest, it is an opportunity to recruit them again as civilians,” Louati added.
According to the private investigation and analysis institution, the Soufan Group, Tunisia – with 3,000 native foreign fighter mercenaries – is the fourth highest country of origin for IS fighters; behind Russia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
According to Louati – who said he had interviewed about 100 returnee prisoners, mostly aged 18 to 35 – among the main causes for their return were family pressure and disillusionment with the militant group with whom they were fighting.
“The majority (of returnees came back) due to disappointment regarding the promises made to them regarding money, stability and recognition,” said Louati.
Many of the prisoners he has interviewed told Louati that, “They do not regret leaving (to fight) but (they regret) not having chosen a different militant group.”
Mohamed Iqbel Ben Rejeb, founder of Rescue Association of Tunisians Trapped Abroad (RATTA) related to EFE the story of his younger brother who was recruited by extremists in 2013 and was arrested allegedly trying to get into Syria at the Syria-Turkish border which forced Ben Rejeb’s brother to be set home.
Since the return of his little brother, Ben Rejeb and his organization RATTA has supported giving returnees a second chance and has advocated for rehabilitation of the prisoners so as to integrate them back into society.