The HOMEAFFAIRS Briefing is a regular specialised digest of the wider discussion on internal security policy.

Last month, our team was in Brussels to discuss policy options for countering Islamic extremism, integrating immigrants into a value system and preventing mass irregular immigration into the EU.

For this purpose, we engaged with renowned experts and practitioners, with whom we exchanged insights and latest findings. The roundtables also provided valuable feedback for our upcoming publications and policy recommendations.

Now, let us turn to this week’s recommendation, which touches on the necessity for EU Member States to better coordinate their work against extremism.

Every EU State Should Have a Counter-Extremism Coordinator

  • The jihadist terrorist attacks perpetrated in recent years across the EU underscored the necessity for European countries to address the glaring problem with Islamic extremist groups. Far-right and far-left groups also continue to be active and undermine the social and political stability of European societies. Countering terrorism effectively requires building a comprehensive system against extremism as a whole, both violent and non-violent.
  • Despite this, some EU states still lack a clear counter-extremism strategy that would set out an integrated approach to countering extremist groups. Such an approach must involve all of the relevant counter-extremism actors and start at the very top. All EU Member States should establish the office of a national counter-extremism coordinator.
  • The office would tie together and strategically coordinate the counter-extremism efforts of relevant ministries, security services, intelligence services and other key actors involved in countering extremist groups. The national counter-extremism coordinator would ideally answer directly to the Prime Minister and brief the government.
  • While the office of the coordinator may focus on counter-extremism as a whole, it should be supported by advisors specifically competent in countering Islamic extremism. This is because Islamic extremism poses a unique threat and must be countered in unique ways. Advisors versed in other forms of extremism, such as far-right extremism, should also be involved.
  • Setting up such an office is no easy task and will not be accomplished overnight. Some states might prefer to first establish an independent commissioner for counter-extremism, such as it exists in the United Kingdom. However, the long-term vision must be for an increased national and international coordination and co-operation on countering extremism, both violent and non-violent.

Every two weeks, our team crafts internal security policy recommendations that incorporate handpicked publications from respected research organisations and experts in Europe and elsewhere. This time, let us look at one potential tool for countering the growing potential for mass immigration from Africa, and the policies used to counter radicalisation in prisons.

Invest in Landscape Restoration to Address the Potential for Mass Immigration from Africa

  • Africa is highly vulnerable to land degradation, with desertification affecting around 45% of the land area. This issue is even more pressing considering the expected doubling of the African population by 2050 and the dependency of 83% of the Sub-Saharan Africans on local food production. Continuous land degradation is likely to intensify competition for scarce natural resources, resulting in conflict, food insecurity and involuntary migration.
  • According to a new report published by Clingendael, landscape restoration could prove to be one of the tools with which the potential for mass irregular migration can be countered in the long-term.
  • Tackling the potential for mass immigration requires the building of a perspective for safe and sustainable life in African countries. Landscape restoration – activities which counter land degradation, including reforestation, improved water management and more effective land use – would diminish food insecurity in regions affected by land degradation and create opportunities for local employment for the young African population.
  • Landscape restoration projects often produce public goods rather than private profit and may involve high-risk investments, making it less popular with private investors. Instead, EU Member States should look into opportunities for investing in landscape restoration projects that may reduce the otherwise growing potential for mass migration from African regions affected by land degradation.

Consider Alternative Strategies for Preventing Radicalisation in Prisons

  • In a recent study for the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Ido Levy focuses on the phenomenon of prison radicalization.
  • Examples like Camp Bucca in Iraq, Folsom State Prison in California or Feltham Youth Offenders Institution in London reveal that instead of correction and rehabilitation, prisons often serve as a fertile ground for network formation among terrorists. Until 2015, 19 out of 20 top commanders of the Islamic State were former Camp Bucca detainees, including the group’s leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. With the decline of the Islamic State and the arrest of many of its fighters, the issue will likely gain urgency as they are moved to penitentiary institutions across the world.
  • Various policies exist to counter prison radicalization, the most prominent being containment and dispersion. Containment seeks to isolate terrorist convicts from the wider prison population, for instance by separating them in special wing of the prison. In contrast, dispersion includes a calculated distribution of terrorist convicts in different detention centres to minimize mutual contact.
  • However, neither method is perfect. Containment limits radicalization of the other inmates but enables network formation. Dispersion inhibits terrorist convicts from creating networks, but provides them with opportunities to influence the rest of the prison population. Some countries may be better poised to choose one policy over the other depending on the number and character of the terrorist convicts.
  • Whatever policy is chosen, it should include a programme for de-radicalisation and rehabilitation of terrorist convicts, so that the originators of prison radicalization are prevented from spreading extremism. Appropriate funding for such initiatives and sufficient prison capacity are of importance given the negative impact of prison overcrowding on successful conduct of rehabilitation.