Local authorities in the Swedish city of Lund are determined to rehabilitate and reintegrate former ISIS fighters and other extremists by providing them with housing, employment, education and financial support in a new program, according to a report from the U.K. in Independent.
Anna Sjöstrand, the municipal coordinator against violent extremism, admitted that the program is controversial, claiming that “the same approach should be taken to ISIS defectors as to those leaving organized crime and neo-Nazi groups.”
Sjöstrand said, “If you have committed a criminal act, you should take responsibility for it, but there are many aspects — one could, for example, look at it in terms of cost. It is much cheaper to reintegrate a person into society than to abandon them, for example.”
After conducting a report on extremist defectors for the Swedish government, criminologist Christoffer Carlsson is supportive of the program, telling reporters that people who are trying to get out of ISIS need a way to break out of their networks and avoid returning to the group.
“You need resources, you need to reintegrate into the job market, you need a license, you need a roof over your head,” said Carlsson, adding, “I fail to see why you should treat people who leave violent extremism differently (to young criminals).”
According to a recent report, most European ISIS fighters have a criminal background, so the group is actively trying to attract young men searching for redemption.
Sweden reportedly has one of the highest ISIS fighters per capita in Europe, but when it comes to sheer numbers of ISIS members, France, the UK, Belgium and Germany are far ahead them.
Out of at least 300 Swedish foreign fighters who traveled to Syria and Iraq to join ISIS, approximately 140 Swedish foreign fighters are reported to have returned to Sweden.
As ISIS continues to lose territory across Syria and Iraq, officials fear that a major offensive in Iraq could send a surge of militants into Europe, which would exacerbate the already pressing issue of how to deal with returning jihadis in European cities.
“The retaking of ISIS’s northern Iraqi stronghold, Mosul, may lead to the return to Europe of violent ISIS fighters,” said Julian King, Commissioner for the (European) Security Union.
It’s been reported that an estimated “one fifth of the group’s militants – 3,700 people – are residents or nationals of Western Europe,” according to a King’s College London study last year.
An estimated 800 jihadists have traveled from the UK to join Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq, and approximately half of them have returned to the country.
The program to reintegrate returning jihadists is also being looked at in several other Swedish cities.
Sweden has experienced increasing crime and terror in the past months, due to the large number of Muslim refugees who have migrated there. In the latest attack on April 7, a truck drove through a crowd of pedestrians, killing 4 and wounded 15. One of the suspects arrested was a rejected asylum-seeker.
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