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The Foreign Fighters Phenomenon in the European Union

In a study commissioned by the Netherlands National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV), ICCT analysed the numbers and characteristics of foreign fighters across the EU, how the Union and Member States assess the threat of foreign fighters as well as their policy responses regarding security, preventive and legislative measures. The report also outlines a series of policy options aimed both at the EU and its Member States. The final report, 'Foreign Fighters in the European Union: Profiles, Threats and Policies' was published in April 2016.

About the project

Extra body

The project findings included:

  • Of a total estimated 3,922 – 4,294 foreign fighters from EU Member States, around 30% have returned to their home countries.
  • A majority of around 2,838 foreign fighters come from just four countries: Belgium, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, with Belgium having the highest per-capita FF contingent.
  • There is no clear-cut profile of a European foreign fighter. Data indicates that a majority originate from metropolitan areas, with many coming from the same neighbourhoods, that an average of 17% are female, and that the percentage of converts among foreign fighters ranges from 6% to 23%.
  • The radicalisation process of foreign fighters is reported to be short and often involves circles of friends radicalising as a group and deciding to leave jointly for Syria and Iraq.

In analysing the policies of Member States in response to the foreign fighter phenomenon, the authors recommend that strategies be implemented which encompass a suitable, proportional, context-specific and effective mix of policy responses, taken from a toolbox of security, legislative, and preventive measures. Their analysis reveals that, while many Member States have already bolstered security and legislative policy measures, a larger focus needs to be put on preventive measures as well as rehabilitation and reintegration programmes to deal with returning foreign fighters.

The following researchers have contributed to this report: Bibi van GinkelEva Entenmann (Eds.), Bérénice BoutinGrégory ChauzalJessica DorseyMarjolein JegeringsChristophe PaulussenJohanna PohlAlastair Reed and Sofia Zavagli.