The Aarhus Model: Preventing Radicalisation in Denmark

By Jacob Bundsgaard, Mayor, City of Aarhus

Generally speaking, the essence of the Aarhus model is preventing radicalisation by working with at-risk citizens to improve their possibilities for inclusion in society and to help them develop better life skills. The specific intervention depends on the situation - for example, counselling parents or at-risk youth themselves, mentoring programmes or parent networks. Regardless of the intervention, the aim is to include these at-risk youth in society again as active, participating citizens.

Dialogue and a firm hand

It goes without saying that if someone has committed a criminal offence, that person will be prosecuted and convicted as a matter of course. The Aarhus model is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, but a combination of dialogue and a firm hand.

For this reason, it is also important to emphasize that this initiative is being carried out in close cooperation between the City of Aarhus and the East Jutland Police, as well as involving Aarhus University, the Prison and Probation Service, and other partners.

It is necessary to understand the work we are doing in Aarhus in light of current Danish legislation. In Denmark, travelling to Syria is not illegal, and neither is returning from Syria. We can only arrest people when they come back to Denmark if we can prove what they did while they were in Syria is illegal under Danish law.

Naturally, Danish police investigate suspected criminal activity and make arrests if they be-lieve someone has broken Danish law while in Syria. But in Denmark, the police do not only investigate and make arrests. We also work to prevent crime, which is in the aim of this programme.

Close collaboration

A major strength of our approach is the close collaboration that has been established between the different government agencies, particularly between the city and the police, because it provides unique opportunities to identify and intervene in relation to youth who may be at risk of radicalisation, just as the involvement of several local government agencies makes it possible to take a holistic approach to intervention.

The main actors engaged in the deradicalisation programme are the East Jutland Police and the City of Aarhus.

We also work closely with Aarhus University, Probation Services, the Clinic for PTSD and Transcultural Psychiatry, the Danish Ministry of Children, Equality, Integration and Social Affairs, as well as PET (the Danish Security and Intelligence Service).

The 2005 London bombings

The anti-radicalisation effort was originally a police initiative which began in response to the bombings in London in 2005, and the goal was initially to prevent home-grown terrorism. In response to subsequent conflicts in Syria and Iraq, we have developed contingency plans for dealing with travellers to Syria.

Efforts to prevent radicalisation in the City of Aarhus have been underway since 2007. Preparations for dealing with events in Syria started in mid-2013 based on a recognised need for a more specialised and concerted effort in this area. Until then, travellers to Syria were dealt with under existing efforts to prevent radicalisation.

Dialogue is key

We’ve established a dialogue with the communities and minority groups with a history of recruitment into violent extremism

Dialogue is central to our approach to prevention, for example in relation to identifying young people who are already on the path to radicalization. To facilitate this, we have a number of concrete initiatives, such as an ‘Info house’ that parents, caseworkers, teachers and youth club staff can contact if they’re concerned that a person is at risk of radicalisation. We facilitate dialogue-based workshops for young people in lower secondary school and youth education programmes, and we have established parents’ groups for relatives of people from Aarhus who are suspected of participating, are currently participating, or have participated in the conflict in Syria to provide them with counselling and support.

What are the results?

One result is that the traffic to Syria has been reduced from thirty-one individuals in 2013 to a couple in 2014 and 2015. Of course, we can’t demonstrate a causal relationship, but we believe that our efforts have had a significant impact. We’ve established a dialogue with the communities and minority groups with a history of recruitment into violent extremism.

We have had 165 specific cases of at-risk youth reported to our Info house over the last four years. Most of these cases have been dealt with through counselling. So far, nineteen people have been involved in the mentoring programme. Eight individuals are still being mentored; some of them are foreign fighters, some of them are at-risk youth - in relation to political as well as religious extremism. To the best of our knowledge, we have had thirty-three individuals who have left for Syria/Iraq from Aarhus, of whom sixteen have returned and five are presumed dead.

Our experiences so far

The interventions described here are most effective with people who are in the early or middle stages of the radicalisation process. Early interventions that provide specific solutions to the problems that are causing the person’s frustration remove the motivations behind radicalisation and the propensity for violence.

Dialogue, advice, guidance and practical assistance are effective tools in relation to young people who are considering participation in the conflict in Syria/Iraq, as well as the rehabilitation of young people who have been marginalised as a result of their radicalisation.

A friendly but firm approach strengthens dialogue. Fruitful dialogue with radicalised individuals and groups is promoted by clear messages from the authorities on the criminal, personal and social consequences of violent extremism, combined with appreciative communication and concrete help.

A meaningful dialogue with minority communities, possibly including radicalised sectors within these communities, provides a better overview of the situation and facilitates planning and implementation of interventions for the prevention of radicalisation and violent extremism.


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