Tackling radicalisation and polarisation among migrants

Radicalization and polarization pose a risk to vulnerable individuals and groups, potentially escalating their initial engagement to violent acts and deviant behaviours. With migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers to be among potential victims and/or future perpetrators of radicalisation and polarisation, it is of outmost importance to identify and understand the existing practices, measures and tools that tackle false narratives, which create subsequentially a fertile ground for such extreme phenomena.

As the Council of Europe outlines, “ while the (…) majority of refugees arriving in Europe are fleeing violence and extremism in their countries of origin and are hoping for a peaceful and secure life, there is a real danger of radicalisation [during their travel], in refugee camps and detention centres, with other [individuals] to be potential victims when they are marginalised or fail to integrate into their new society and environment, or when they suffer different forms of discrimination and violence on arrival.” [1]. Therefore, the relation between marginalisation and radicalisation needs further research.

The concept of the term of radicalisation could be considered vague, lacking an internationally accepted definition, as it can be influenced by operational, policy, academic, sociological and or political standpoints, thus taking different political and religious forms ranging from non-violent radical ideas to extremist behaviours and terrorist related actions [2,3]. According to Schmid (2011) [4] and Costanza (2012) [5], radicalisation aims to ideologically socialise individuals stemming from different backgrounds (mostly young and vulnerable) towards common utopic beliefs and ideas, in most cases through engaging them in violent initiatives against individuals who adopt different viewpoints. The process of radicalisation is not a linear path. According to the Moghaddam model of radicalisation [6], it is rather an ascending scale with specific steps, which depict the ongoing behavioural escalation of individuals or groups. Starting by trying to change perceived unfair situations, continuing to being morally disengaged from the society, accepting simultaneously terrorist acts, and being finally recruited to commit deviant acts, while the Internet acts as a facilitating catalyst along the way [7]

As the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons narrates, there is a handful of factors that make migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers vulnerable to radical groups as well as to extremism and terrorism propaganda, such as identity issues, discrimination and economic deprivation, societal and cultural marginalisation etc. The much more intense feeling of belonging and being accepted for such individuals who are far from their home countries combined with the (usually) unrealistic narratives for Europe spread by smugglers, which may end up to frustration when they face reality, make them prone to extremist propaganda, triggering in that way the radicalisation process.

The EU-funded project PERCEPTIONS (GA No  833870) addresses the issue of radicalisation and polarisation, by initially identifying it as a potential threat not only to host countries but also to the safety, integrity, dignity and life of migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers, as well as by outlining existing practices measures and tools to tackle this issue. Eight specific practices have been identified, which are explicitly tackling this phenomenon, with others to be also combined with similar strategies in the domain of migrant (re-)integration, addressing fake news and negative public perceptions, racism, and xenophobia towards migrants in the host country, as well as protection of their human rights. 

In particular the aforementioned initiatives report good practices to tackle phenomena such as online hate speech, extremism, and ethnic nationalist ideologies, as well as of racism and Islamophobia, through counternarratives and Muslim participation, the design of certain policies focusing on crime prevention among young migrants/refugees, as well as the Social media representation of radicalisation narratives in Islamist and populist phenomena and extremist content. 

Specific practices and tools refer mainly to the organisation of workshops and training sessions with youngsters of Muslim and/or immigrant background, empowering them to confront Islamism and ethnic-national ideologies. They specifically offer support to unaccompanied children, adolescents and young adults who had entered a specific country (Cologne), as well as to families against threats of radicalisation (Belgium).  A handful of measures engaged Social Media and Art-based (exhibitions, recreational and cultural activities, photo galleries, festivals, cinema screenings, theatre, tv reports, video/media clips etc.) that promoted specific counter narratives and collective stories from migrants to tackle specific radicalisation narratives. 

Finally, ICT related (online interactive platforms, mobile applications, digital portfolios), awareness campaigns, dedicated manuals and handbooks, recommendations lists, reports, factsheets, and academic studies as well as community related initiatives (social networking, collaboration schemes, peer-to-peer meetings with community, neighbourhood activities etc.) are some of the measures identified by PERCEPTIONS consortium on an international, European, regional and national level that address the issue of radicalisation parallel to other threats against migrants and/or hosting countries. 


Author: Theoni Spathi


[1] Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly (2018). Radicalisation of migrants and diaspora communities in Europe. Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, Reference 4279 of 10 March 2017. 2018 – Fourth part-session

[2] Dzehkova, R., et.al., 2016. Understanding Radicalization: Review of Literature. CSD, ISBN: 978-954-477-261-1

[3] Bötticher, A. (2017). Towards Academic Consensus Definitions of Radicalism and Extremism. Perspectives on Terrorism, 11(4), 73-77. Retrieved from: www.jstor.org/stable/26297896

[4] Schmid, A.P. (2011). The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research. London: Routledge.

[5] Costanza, W (2012). An interdisciplinary framework to assess the radicalization of youth towards violent extremism across cultures, Georgetown University, p. 26

[6] Moghaddam, F. (2005) The Staircase to Terrorism. A Psychological Exploration. American Psychologist, 60(2), 161-9.

[7] Hassan, G., et.al. (2018). Exposure to extremist online content could lead to violent radicalization: A systematic review of empirical evidence. International journal of developmental science, 12(1-2), 71-88.


PACE – Doc. 14625 (2018) – Radicalisation of migrants and diaspora communities in Europe (coe.int)


Perceptions, migrants, radicalisation, polarisation, strategies, media, platforms, practices, policy

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