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De-radicalisation programme funds running out, NGO says

The project run by the Deaconess Foundation aims to support radicalised individuals as they disengage from violent movements and ideologies.

File photo of a participant in a march by the neo-Nazi White Pride organisation in Manchester, UK in 2015. Image: Joel Goodman / AOP

A de-radicalisation project run by human rights NGO the Deaconess Foundation may have to end due to a lack of funding.

The Exit project (siirryt toiseen palveluun) has been running for about one year and aims to support radicalised individuals as they disengage from violently extremist movements and ideologies.

The project has helped about 38 people throughout the past year and currently has 17 active participants.

Similar de-radicalisation projects are run by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as well as by the Finnish Criminal Sanctions Agency. However, according to Ilkka Kantola of the Deaconess Foundation, the NGO's model has certain advantages over those run by the authorities.

"Violent extremism can involve strong tensions with government agencies, which can in turn raise the threshold for seeking help. For a third sector organisation, that threshold is lower and the foundation for building trust is slightly stronger," Kantola explained.

Participants from extremes of religion, ideology

The concept of violent extremism is not confined to any one single religion or ideology, but can be associated with very different and even polar opposite factions, such as Islamic extremists and neo-Nazi movements.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the US defines violent extremism as the "encouraging, condoning, justifying, or supporting the commission of a violent act to achieve political, ideological, religious, social, or economic goals".

The worlds of violent extremism are typically divided into violent extremism based on religion or ideology, violently extremist alternative movements, and violent single-issue movements.

The Deaconess Foundation was not willing to release any information on the backgrounds of the people who had participated in the Exit project, saying it is unnecessary to apply labels to participants.

"Client-led contacts have come from both the religious and ideological sides," the foundation's specialist Onni Sarvela told Yle, adding that the activities carried out by the project are quite varied and diverse.

"Sometimes we go out together to try new hobbies, or find new groups or communities to join. Sometimes we even put furniture together and talk things through at the same time," he said.

Previous project also ended prematurely

A previous version of the Exit project, called Radinet, was established and run by the Vuolle Settlement’s anti-violence service in Oulu in 2016. Esa Holappa, a former neo-Nazi who had been the leader of the Finnish Resistance Movement (FRM) was one of the project's mentors.

The project began successfully, with about 80 people registering during the first 12 months, until the organisers could not secure additional funding and the project was discontinued.

The Deaconess Foundation's Exit project now faces a similar fate, as current funding will only support the project until the end of this year.

"There is no certainty about the future at this stage. From the point of view of the effectiveness of the project, it would be necessary for funding to be secured," Kantola said.