Dutch Safety Houses Study Tour: Strong Cities Network MENA office travel to the Netherlands with Jordanian and Lebanese member of the Network

Above: Jordanian and Lebanese policymakers, judiciaries, practitioners and national stakeholders meet with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Dutch Safety Houses Study Tour.

On 12-14 November 2021 the Strong Cities Network (SCN), in partnership with the Embassy of the Netherlands and Human Security Collective, organised a study tour that brought together 25 Jordanian and Lebanese policymakers, judiciaries, practitioners and national stakeholders together with decision makers, mayors, academics and local practitioners in the field of the prevention and countering of violent extremism (P/CVE) and polarisation from the Netherlands.

Over three days, the tour conducted visits to the municipalities of The Hague, Delft, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, in addition to community centres and mosques, to look at the ‘Dutch Safety Houses’ model and other multi-agency structures that work using a clear and efficient coordination mechanism to prevent violent extremism and ensure inclusion and support of vulnerable individuals and those at risk. Discussions focused on mobilising mayoral leadership against extremism, hate and polarisation; barriers to national-local coordination on prevention; the role cities can play in supporting PVE efforts and engaging returning foreign fighters and their families; understanding the impact of online extremist groups’ recruitment on communities; and youth-focused programmes and initiatives, amongst others.

The tour also included discussions with academics and think tanks to look at the latest research and monitoring and evaluation tools that could feed into future P/CVE programming.

At the level of rehabilitation and reintegration, the study tour provided policymakers and judiciaries with the opportunity to look at the Nieuw Vosseveld prison in Vught. The visit provided insights on the mechanisms that help rehabilitate convicts and integrate them into society, notably via psychosocial support, vocational training and supporting paid work opportunities in prison. In parallel, the Vught prison works in close coordination with the Dutch Safety Houses to ensure smooth integration and follow up of prisoners once they complete their sentences.

Reflecting on the study tour, participants indicated that the ‘Local Prevention Networks’ established by the Strong Cities Network were deemed successful in integrating PVE programming within municipal work and promoting spaces for youth to express themselves and feel integrated within their communities.

However, challenges to comprehensive integrated P/CVE programming remain and pertain to:

  • Lack of institutionalised coordinated multi-stakeholder mechanisms that could support efficient P/CVE programmes. The Dutch model showcased an institutionalised, case specific and coordinated triaging approach that municipalities, police and local prosecutors in the Netherlands adopt within the ‘Dutch Safety Houses’ model and similar models to detect, report, analyse and refer different cases.
  • A centralised approach to municipal work and operations in Lebanon and Jordan. The mandate that Dutch municipalities acquire provides an added value to engage in efficient P/CVE programmes.
  • Scarcity of human and financial resources at the national and local government level in Lebanon and Jordan, creating a challenging environment to the implementation of satisfactory civic engagement programs and spaces.
  • The rising risks of polarisation exacerbated by COVID-19 and the economic hardship that Jordan is facing and the failure of the government, social, economic and political crisis in Lebanon.
  • National-local cooperation and coordination for prevention can be challenging to operationalise. Competing and transient political priorities and interests, and reluctance for necessary information sharing between different levels of government and security agencies, can create significant barriers for effective coordination.

As a result, the Strong Cities Network will support, during the coming period, national and local coordination and information sharing mechanisms and regional exchanges and capacity development opportunities that will enhance the role of cities and the effectiveness of P/CVE programming in the Middle East.

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