By Astrid Zweynert
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The need to earn a basic living, a desire for a sense of purpose and revenge are key factors that push young Syrians into joining extremist groups, a peacebuilding group said on Wednesday.
Males between 12 and 24 are most at risk of joining jihadist organizations like the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate Nusra Front, International Alert said in a report.
The London-based group also found that children and young adults who were not in education as well as refugees and people forced from their homes were vulnerable to being recruited.
Young Syrian men told International Alert, which interviewed more than 300 young Syrians in Syria, Lebanon and Turkey, that joining armed groups afforded them "a strong sense of purpose, honor and self-worth".
"People can find a new meaning to their life in extremism. Extremism opens a door to a new life where they are wanted," one young Syrian man was quoted as saying in the study.
Syria's war which has entered its sixth year has killed more than 250,000 people though with tens of thousands unaccounted for, some say the death toll may be as high as 400,000.
The conflict has driven almost 10 million people from their homes, according to the United Nations.
Rebecca Crozier, head of Middle East Programme at International Alert, said armed groups were recruiting young people at an "alarming rate."
"These groups are very adept at this 'come and join this movement, be part of this' rhetoric to draw in young people who have lost a sense of purpose and belonging during the war," Crozier told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Revenge against the government of President Bashar al-Assad is also a strong motivator, the report said.
"Many Syrians want to get revenge against the regime for destroying their families, houses, lives and everything else," said another interviewee, currently living in Turkey.
With some two million Syrian children out of school because of the war, armed groups have been providing their own forms of education, including teaching religion and military tactics, International Alert said.
"These 'schools' are highly segregated, exploit sectarian divisions and support divisive narratives," the report said.
International Alert urged donors and policymakers to help prevent recruitment by investing in education and programs to improve job opportunities, and working with locals to rebuild shattered communities.
"Much of the aid efforts are palliative and don't help Syrians to lay the foundations for a future Syria where people can live peacefully side by side," said Crozier.
(Reporting by Astrid Zweynert; Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories)