A demonstration against the government's plan to repatriate ex-IS fighters from Syria at the front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta on Monday. (Antara Photo/Wahyu Putro A.)

Mental Health Treatment Paramount for Children of Foreign Terrorist Fighters


FEBRUARY 17, 2020

Jakarta. Human rights activists demand the Indonesian government make all the necessary preparations for the return of the children of ex-Islamic State fighters from refugee camps in Syria, including by setting up deradicalization programs and training therapists for psychological counseling, before the children, many of them orphans, set foot back in their home country. 

President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo had agreed to allow the Indonesian children of ex-IS fighters to return home, the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud M.D. said on Monday. 


Activist Yenny Wahid, the daughter of the late former Indonesian president Abdurrahman Wahid, said the government is facing a tough challenge ahead to reintegrate these children into society.

"We don't know if we're ready. We'll need all the resources we can get to reintegrate these traumatized children into Indonesian society," Yenny said in Depok, West Java, on Monday.

The children's mental health is of particular concern since they have witnessed the violence of war first-hand since they were very young. According to Yenny, most of the children will need long-term psychological counseling and therapy.

To make things worse, Indonesia cannot look to other countries for best-practice examples since the repatriation of ex-IS fighters and their families is a new global problem.

"No country in the world has extensive experience in reintegrating the children of IS fighters into society. This is a big challenge for us. Not only do we have to prepare all the necessary resources, including the mental health therapists, we also have to come up with the right method from scratch to deploy those resources," Yenny said.

Earlier this month, the government had decided it would not repatriate 689 Indonesian militants who had joined IS in Syria and Iraq.

Mahfud said the government did not want the "virus" of radicalism spread in Indonesia if these IS fighters were allowed to return. 

However, according to Mahfud, after discussing it with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Jokowi later decided to allow only the children of the ex-IS fighters to return.

"The president asked PM Morrison about the way Australia handled their FTFs [foreign terrorist fighters] and was told that Australia does allow orphaned children to return for humanitarian reasons," Mahfud told Beritasatu TV.

"We will allow children under 10 years old who have lost both parents during the war with IS to return to Indonesia," Mahfud said.