University of Gothenburg

From Gothenburg to Paradise – how officials, relatives and ‘emigrants’ understand the decision to travel to the conflict in Syria and Iraq

The purpose of this study is to document and analyse whether, when, how, and where officials such as teachers, leisure leaders, social workers, and police paid attention to the fact that a growing number of Gothenburgers from 2012 travelled to join armed struggles in Syria and Iraq.

The present research project, which is a collaboration between the Segerstedt Institute/University of Gothenburg and the City of Gothenburg, focuses on the situation in Gothenburg. The aim is to develop new knowledge about the actors who were active in the outreach’s immediate environment (school, social services, police, family, etc.) and to understand how relatives and outreach people reason about life-changing events, as well as efforts to prevent Gothenburgers from joining movements that use and legitimise violence in other countries. The overall purpose is to contribute knowledge for the development of strategies for how schools, social services, and the police can work preventively to detect future problems and what interventions can be used to prevent people from joining violent environments and exposing themselves and others to imminent danger.

The first part interviewed teachers, principals, social workers, and police officers who in their work came into contact with people who went to the conflict areas that arose after the Arab Spring of 2011, mainly in Syria and Iraq. The purpose is to find out if these professions saw the problem coming, how they related to the situation, and whether they tried to make any efforts to curb the problem. Our purpose is not to highlight if any individual official made any mistakes, if no efforts were made, or if they were of an incorrect nature. Instead, we want to try to understand how teachers, principals, social workers, and police officers reason about past situations and whether these lessons can be used in other ways in the future.

In the second part, we will first try to interview relatives and significant others (such as friends, sports coaches, religious leaders) of those who went down to the conflicts in Syria and Iraq. How did they view a relative’s choosing to travel to participate in the conflict and what efforts did they make to support or prevent people from joining the Islamic State or similar organisations?

As far as possible, we will also interview returnees to get an idea of how they viewed the actions of the local community before their trip to Syria and Iraq.


City of Gothenburg and Segerstedt Institute

Project time

Participating institutions and researchers
Göran Larsson, professor of History of Religion, researcher at the Segerstedt Institute

Christer Mattson, senior lecturer in pedagogy, director of the Segerstedt Institute

Jennie Sivenbring, senior lecturer in children and youth science, researcher at the Segerstedt Institute.