"Victim" or "Security Threat": Gendered Narratives on Women Returnees to the MENA Region
DAESH’ large-scale loss of territory in Syria and Iraq triggered a worldwide movement of the so called “Foreign Terrorist Fighters” and their families returning to their home countries. Public and policy attention focused largely on fighters and families returning to western countries and the potential threat they represent to the security of NATO member states. Numerous analyses have examined whether and how returnees could be prosecuted for any crimes committed, what kind of surveillance system could be put in place, and de-radicalisation and reintegration programmes that can support the returnees. Some of these analyses have examined gendered aspects of policies on returnees and others have focused on the effects of narratives surrounding returnees. Indeed, international organisations have identified narratives of violent extremism as one of the key areas that needs to be investigated for future Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) policies.
Of the at least 6,900 foreign women – some 3,000 from the MENA region – who are believed to have traveled to join DAESH in Syria and Iraq, it is unclear how many have actually returned to their home countries since the fall of the terrorist group’s last stronghold of Baghouz in 2019. A tally of official figures in July 2019 showed that only 609 women – 75 from MENA countries – had been registered as having returned, the lowest percentage of returnees after men and children. This is unlikely to be an accurate reflection, however, as many women returnees are believed to have been neither “acknowledged nor distinguished at the country level”. This lack of acknowledgement is cause for concern. What has happened to these women? Are they trying to return? What awaits them when they arrive?