The fourth largest city in the Netherlands, Utrecht faces key socio-economic challenges. About 38% percent of its population, or 17% of all households, either earns a minimal income or is dependent on social welfare. As with most cities, specific neighbourhoods pose heightened risk. In Utrecht, boroughs such as Kanaleneiland and Overvecht consist predominantly of high-rise housing developments and face higher than average crime rates..
Since 2015, preventative measures have been a priority for the city in the belief that the only way to effectively counter radicalisation and extremism is through an appropriate combination of repression and prevention.
Islamist extremism currently forms a major P/CVE concern. Approximately 40 individuals are being monitored by the “partner case consultation”, a collaboration between the municipality, the police, the National Coordinator for Counter Terrorism and Security and the Public Prosecutor. The city saw 18 of its citizens leave for Syria and Iraq, of which 10 have returned to Utrecht and 3 have died. A further 4 people were stopped before they could travel.
The Dutch National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism (NCTV) is responsible for analysing the national and international terrorist threat against the Netherlands. The NCTV issues threat assessments reports four times a year, which form the basis of the Dutch national counterterrorism strategy. The Dutch National Counterterrorism Strategy 2016-2020 outlines the broader counter terrorism strategy of the Netherlands for the current period. It identifies 5 “intervention areas”: acquire information; prevent; defend; prepare; and prosecute. For each of these areas, multi-agency structures are in place to ensure cooperation between different partners and government levels, including local governments and municipalities.
The Dutch government has been monitoring jihadist extremism for over a decade, issuing regular reports on the development of jihadism in the Netherlands. The conflict in Syria and Iraq sparked an all-time high in jihadist activity and organisations and led to the departure of Dutch foreign terrorist fighters. The Dutch government responded by issuing The Netherlands’ comprehensive action programme to combat jihadism (in Dutch; read a summary in English here) in 2014. The programme outlines many detailed measures to reduce the number of foreign terrorist fighters and prevent radicalisation, tackling extremist content online, and ensuring communication and cooperation at the local level with NGOs and religious groups. The measures have been implemented gradually and the progress of the action programme is regularly evaluated by the government. These evaluation reports are available on the website of the NCTV (in Dutch only).
The city of Utrecht deploys an inclusive approach to P/CVE which depends on cooperation between the municipality and multiple stakeholders. To illustrate their approach, the city has developed a framework that they call the 3-circle approach.
1. The outer circle represents the activities that fall under the umbrella of targeted prevention. These activities are divided into themes, such as acceptance and integration, education aid for parents with multicultural backgrounds, employment education and communication.
2. The middle circle represents detection and resilience. This refers to the city’s efforts to detect radicalisation and to make the community more resilient against violent extremism.
3. The inner circle represents the so-called de-radicalisation light. “Light” refers to the fact that this approach does not only rely on repressive deradicalisation measures. In cases where, for instance, an individual returns from Syria but cannot be accused of participating in terrorist related activities because of a lack of evidence, the aim will be to reintegrate the person into society as quickly and safely as possible. The city then helps with finding a place to live, a job, education and training, and provides counselling and and theological support where appropriate.
This approach is aimed at every vulnerable person, group or family. Vulnerability can be caused by polarisation, discrimination, a lack of resilience, or by being in the process of radicalisation. Every case of vulnerability is analysed by a group of experts from the municipality, law enforcement agencies and specialised health care workers. A person-oriented approach (POA) is then developed for every case, taking into account the specific vulnerabilities of the individual.
Under this approach, law, health, social and civic agencies and stakeholders work together, while their cooperation is coordinated by the municipality. The information necessary for the POA is shared between all agencies. Field and evaluation data indicate this integrated approach is very effective. This approach is the standard working procedure for the municipality of Utrecht, and in the Netherlands in general.