The concepts of deradicalisation and disengagement and are often applied in parallel, with the former generally interpreted in terms of attitudinal change (i.e. reducing sympathy for such violence), and the latter relating instead to behavioural change (i.e. no longer directly contributing to violence). The number of programmes aiming to achieve these objectives has increased substantially over recent years, including in locations such as Indonesia, Nigeria, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Somalia, and Yemen. While the effects of Preventing / Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) programmes is notoriously difficult to measure, there is a strong case that such initiatives have the potential to deliver greater ‘bang per buck’ than other intervention types, for the reasons discussed in this paper. Of course, optimising efforts to counter this violence should clearly be of importance to the EU both on moral grounds (in relation to addressing violence in the countries in which interventions occur), and as a matter of ‘enlightened self-interest’ (as there is a continued threat of this violence being imported to Europe). Of course, the risks associated to such programmes are also prominent, precisely because they provide an existential threat to violent extremist organisations.
This paper covers a range of themes relating to disengagement and deradicalisation programmes, including their activities, staffing considerations, facility upgrades, segregation policies, how to determine their success (or failure), and criteria through which to assess suitable locations for such initiatives. The key recommendations are as follows:
• Tailored interventions: Most of these programmes converge around a similar range of services, including basic education, vocational training, religious education, civic education, psychological (or psychosocial) support, family initiatives, sports and recreational activities and reintegration support. Individuals may be drawn to violent extremism for a broad range of reasons and have distinct personal aspirations. As such, these interventions should ideally be tailored to individual circumstances and needs, rather than one-size-fits-all. Of course, the programme in its entirety will also have to comply with national, regional, and international rights standards.
•Sequential onset of programme activities: Programme designers should also consider adopting a ‘lowest hanging fruit’ approach in which individual components of the broader initiative are sequentially added over time. This way, activities that do not require extensive specialist input during their design phase and that are likely to generate immediate buy-in from beneficiaries (e.g. sports and recreational activities), can be prioritized over those that are more complex and have the potential to provoke suspicion or hostility simply because of their sensitive nature (e.g. psychological support and religious education).
• Staff suitability: Many of the above activities require specialist staff, including vocational instructors, teachers, imams, social workers, and sports coaches. Irrespective of whether these roles are filled by existing facility staff, external implementing partners, or a combination of both, it is often difficult to identify suitably experienced and qualified professionals who are willing to work in such facilities. This is particularly problematic given that is also difficult to overstate the importance of personal relations between centre staff and programme beneficiaries.
• Staff training: Such programmes should generally include training within their budgets, both for the specialist staff and facility guards. This may include standard modules for such facilities (e.g. administrative procedures, human rights, detention centre security, vulnerable groups, complaints and procedures, and so on), as well as ones relating specifically to violent extremism (e.g. recognizing signs of radicalisation, assessing violent extremist prisoners, and so on).
•Facility upgrades: There is a general consensus that interventions of this nature are less likely to succeed in centres that fail to meet adequate standards in terms of physical facilities, including accommodation, educational areas, kitchen facilities, and so on. As such, there is also a strong argument for those tasked with designing these programmes to consider addressing such issues through the programme budget.
• Segregation policies: To the extent that those already involved in violent extremism have the potential to influence others in such facilities, there is certainly a strong argument for segregation policies that limit or prevent such interactions. Such policies also enable the authorities to concentrate scarce resources, including staff with specialist skills and training relating to violent extremism. Yet, there are also strong arguments against such policies, including that they may reinforce the notion that such organisations hold a political status, and that they may inadvertently help such groups maintain their internal structure and discipline. Such policies also have the potential to undermine the process of deradicalisation as this can occur through interactions between violent extremists and their non-ideological counterparts if the two groups are able to mix. The bottom line is that there is no ‘correct’ approach, and the preferred strategy will depend on a range of contextual factors.
• Benefits to other detainees: Irrespective of the above, programme designers must also consider that tertiary P/CVE programmes may potentially deliver adverse consequences if those detained on grounds other than violent extremism are excluded from the benefits. In particular, they may generate jealousies and hostilities that may undermine the general functioning of these facilities.
• Programme objectives: Debates among the community of experts often revolve around whether the objectives of such programmes should relate to the concepts of deradicalisation, disengagement or reintegration, and whether such programmes should also adopt more elevated overarching statements of purpose relating to violent extremism in the location in question more broadly. This is something that should be considered at the outset of each initiative as it is likely to influence programme design decisions.
• Suitable locations for such programmes: While there is no simple formula to determine environments that may be suitable for this form of initiative, at the very least policymakers should consider the extent to which key government stakeholders are likely to be willing and able to provide their support, security considerations, existing levels of community acceptance for such programmes, and (for centres designed to encourage voluntary exits from this violence) the current rates of disengagement. In the current context, decisions regarding suitable locations may also have to consider local COVID-19 situations.
Access the full report