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Resources, City Spotlights Hani i Elezit/Elez Han

City Spotlight: Hani i Elezit/Elez Han

Hani i Elezit/Elez Han is a municipality located in southern Kosovo on the border with North Macedonia that has historically served as a gateway for travellers passing through the Kacanik Gorge. It joined the Strong Cities Network in March 2017 and has since contributed to various capacity-building and peer-learning activities. This includes  a workshop hosted in Elbasan (Albania) in June 2023 on city-led approaches for empowering youth to address threats to local peace and security. Despite being one of the smallest municipalities in Kosovo and having limited resources, the local government has managed to develop and begin to implement a whole-of-society approach to addressing hate, extremism and polarisation. It has put in place mechanisms to facilitate communication and coordination between relevant stakeholders while leveraging the capacities and expertise of community-based organisations.

What is the local government concerned about?

One of the Municipality’s most pressing challenges is the rehabilitation and reintegration of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) and family members who have already been repatriated by the national government. This is particularly so given many of these individuals came from Hani i Elezit/Elez Han and are thus expected to return there (or have already done so), and that the Municipality was not given adequate support nor time to prepare to ‘receive’ these individuals.  

Beyond the immediate issues surrounding the rehabilitation and reintegration of returnees, the Municipality faces ongoing socioeconomic challenges and low levels of trust amongst residents in government institutions. This is exacerbated by the city sitting on Kosovo’s porous border with North Macedonia, which results in unmonitored demographic influxes that strain already limited resources to support all those in the municipality. 

How is the local government responding?

Despite its limited capacities and resources, the Municipality has made a concerted effort to establish structures and programmes to mitigate risks of hate, extremism and polarisation, both to support returnees with their reintegration, and to address the socioeconomic and other underlying conditions that contributed to their decision to join violent groups in the first place.  

Firstly, the small size of the town made it relatively easy for the Municipality to develop, maintain and otherwise manage partnerships with civil society groups and grassroot organisations and to leverage their capacities, experience and networks for effective and sustainable local solutions. For instance, the local government has partnered with religious community leaders to dispel extremist narratives and promote tolerance. Equally important, the Municipality has been able to leverage the expertise and capacity of non-governmental organisations to contribute to the complex rehabilitation and reintegration process.  

Moreover, the Municipality has prioritised strengthening its multi-sectoral prevention efforts, establishing a multi-agency referral mechanism to support vulnerable individuals who are deemed vulnerable to radicalisation. Composed of 15 local authority representatives, the platform is designed to serve as a model for other municipalities in Kosovo. On top of this, the Municipality operates a multi-disciplinary Local Community Safety Council, which is chaired by the Mayor and meets every month to discuss strategies to address current security and safety issues. A significant emphasis in this regard is put on youth and women inclusion, evidenced by the fact that half of the municipal departments are led by women. 

What’s next?

The Mayor of Hani Elezit/Elez Han has emphasised that capacity and resource gaps continue to pose a challenge for the local government to be more effective in addressing hate, extremism and polarisation. For instance, following the repatriation of families of FTFs in April 2019, the Municipality had only one psychologist employed to provide psychosocial support as a part of the rehabilitation and reintegration process. The Municipality feels it would benefit from opportunities to engage directly with the national government ultimately to open and sustain a national-local dialogue on how local governments can be better supported to address issues of hate, polarisation and extremism, including to effectively rehabilitate and reintegrate returnees. With support from the Strong Cities Western Balkans Regional Hub, the city will pursue opportunities to do so, and to engage other municipalities both within Kosovo and the wider region on these issue sets.  

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