The United Nations (UN) working group, which met this week in Belgium to gather information on the phenomenon of foreign fighters in the country, presented its recommendations when the group drew to a close on Friday. UN representatives particularly stress the lack of both reintegration programmes and structured rehabilitation programmes for those returnees in Belgium. It also developed a specific profile of those who leave to fight in Syria and Iraq.
The UN experts firstly congratulated the various Belgian stakeholders for having taken initiatives to deal with the problem of foreign fighters. “We had to respond initially and it is from this initial response that we have to now study the impact further, although it is good news that there are already initiatives being implemented,” explains human rights expert Elzbieta Karska.
The total number of Belgian fighters abroad is now at around 500. Among the 5àà, 128 have returned to Belgium, 77 are declared dead and 62 were prevented from leaving Belgium. There are some 30,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria.
The UN group put forward several recommendations to Belgium, which were within the framework of the twelve measures taken by the Government last January. It is urging the government to adopt a human rights based approach, in particular with regards to private life, freedom of expression and freedom of movement and nationality rights.
The experts went on to criticise the lack of reintegration and structured rehabilitation programmes for the returnees. “We recommend the application of mentoring practices, such as the so-called Aarhus Model in Denmark, within communes such as Vilvorde and the French-speaking community,” they stressed.
The profiles of foreign fighters are diverse but the group nevertheless tried to develop an approximate portrait. “We can confirm that their average age is around 23. Women are also leaving in more and more significant numbers.” Compared to last year, however, there are now fewer young men leaving.