IWB for refugees: The Netherlands
The Dutch Alien policy is based on the Geneva Convention, European treaties and Dutch legislation. In September 2015 the European Commission started a juridical procedure against the Netherlands, and several other European countries, for not complying with European Asylum legislation. In general, the main issue is that certain guidelines did not get implemented; legislation regarding the acknowledgment of refugees, the minimum norms for asylum procedures and shelter of asylum seekers. In 2014 the Dutch government was found to be in violation of Article 13(4) and Article 31(2) ESC. This is the European Social Charter, a Council of Europe treaty.The right to food, clothing and shelter for certain groups of immigrants was denied. The ‘bed-bath-and-bread compromise’ that fallowed is according to the UN still a violation of human rights and international rules and treaties. There are examples of people who are fighting for a refugee status that end up on the streets and are not provided for. The Dutch government has a history of discouraging refugees to come to Holland, for example the infamous austere reception. Different parties and ministers try to find ways to provide only the bare minimum for refugees and asylum seekers; this is justified through a selective use of treaties, ignoring those treaties that state further obligations.
 https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten/brieven/2016/02/18/brief-van-de-staatssecretaris-van-veiligheid-en-justitie-aan-asielzoekers-aan-de-grens-engels ; https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten/brieven/2016/02/18/brief-van-de-staatssecretaris-van-veiligheid-en-justitie-aan-asielzoekers-op-de-opvanglocaties-engels and http://www.dutchnews.nl/news/archives/2015/10/minister-writes-to-refugees-warning-of-austere-reception/ (February 2016)
Number of people with a refugee status: 4,430 (in September 2015)
Top 5 countries of origin: Syria, Eritrea, Stateless, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia
- Reasons for leaving the country of origin:
- The Syrian war.
- The Eritrean dictatorial regime and its human rights violations.
- The Iraqi conflict between the forces of the Shia government and Sunni IS (formerly Islamic State of Iraq).
How much state allowance does a refugee receive a month?
A maximum of €58 per week, so 232 per month:
– Pocket money is €12,95 per week per person, including children and the money is given to the parents. This is for toiletries, clothes and other personal expenses.
– Food money is dependent on the family size. A single person gets a maximum of €45,36 per week. A family with 2 children get €112 per week. If the family does not have to prepare their own dinner, then it’s €29,12 for a single person and €68 for a family with 2 children.
What are the living conditions of refugees (for example housing)?
While their application is being processed, asylum seekers live in a refugee center. When they receive a residence permit, they qualify for housing. The accommodations are provided throughout the Netherlands and are assigned to them and refugees cannot choose the place where they will live. The Ministry of Interior determines the number of refugees that must be distributed to each municipality and every six months these quota are updated.
The number of refugees allocated to each municipality depends on their number of citizens.
A municipality has to provide housing within three months of the decision, otherwise the Provincial Council can impose sanctions. Although a refugee generally has no say with regard to the future place of residence, exceptions are made for those who have first degree relatives in a certain municipality and want to join them there. Also, other factors may play a significant role: work opportunities and education. This means that if a refugee finds work, needs doctor’s treatment in a different city or gets accepted into an educational system, a home will be provided for this person within a radius of 50 kilometers.
The refugee also has the right to see the residence designated to him/her and has the right to refuse it, but only under strict circumstances – the house needs to be inappropriate for the refugee, for example if he/she moves in with his family and the residence is too small for the number of people.
Because refugees have little to no belongings when they start a new life in the Netherlands, the municipality offers them the opportunity to enter into a credit arrangement. In this way they can furnish the house assigned to them and use the money for other expenses as well. The loan is mostly intended for basic furniture and paints or other materials needed for improvements and repairs.
Are refugees offered language lessons?
Before 2013, it was the duty of municipalities to assist refugees in finding integration and language courses and the necessary exams. After 2013, the refugees are the ones who need to find and pay for their integration and language courses and exams. Refugees can loan up to 10,000 euro from DUO in order to pay for their studies. Those who pass the civic integration test (which includes passing the Dutch language test) within three years, don’t have to reimburse the study loan.
Are people with an official refugee status allowed to work? If yes, is there assistance for finding employment?
More than one in three refugees in the Netherlands from 15 to 64 have a paid job. Compared to them, two thirds of the Dutch citizens from the same age group have a job. Refugees who are unemployed are eligible to receive the same social welfare benefits as other unemployed Dutch residents or citizens. There are a few reasons for this difference in employment numbers:
- Language barrier: even for those who are taking, or have been taking Dutch courses, it is difficult and demanding to learn the new language, more so to be nearly fluent in a short period of time. This language barrier does slow down the integration into the job market.
- The diplomas and qualifications received in the country of origin are not always recognized by the Dutch authorities.
- The period of unemployment or discontinuation of studies can be quite long in some cases and the gap in the CV leads to difficulties.
- Some refugees face difficulties in finding a job in the Netherlands because of advanced age.
- Because the Netherlands is a foreign environment, where they have to start from zero, refugees lack a network of people that could help them find a job.
- Last, but not least important: some employers discriminate against refugees and are reluctant in accepting them.
Do legal refugees have the right to work immediately or only after a certain period of time?
During the first sixth months of the asylum procedure, a person is not allowed to work. After these six months they can get a work permit and a document that states deportation is not an option, both from COA. Only then are they allowed to do paid labour, for a maximum of 24 weeks a year and have to seek labour themselves. They can also do volunteer work. Lastly, they are obliged to give a percentage of their income to COA to contribute for provided shelter and the monthly social assistance they get. In cases like practicing a profession such as medicine, official permits are required.
Is there a maximum amount of time that a refugee can stay in the Netherlands? Also receiving a legal refugee status?
First of all, the person applying for asylum will receive a temporary asylum permit. If the person receives a positive answer from the IND and can reside in the Netherlands, he will receive a temporary license that can be at any time revoked by the Dutch government. After five years, the refugee is entitled to a permanent asylum permit. This permit can be revoked as well, but only if the refugee commits a crime. This permit also allows the refugee to work in the Netherlands.
Is the state obliged to provide asylum seekers with healthcare?
Yes, every person who has officially filed for asylum gets free health care via healthcare provider Menzis. It is basic, though with special agreements for dental care. There is no contribution required and the level of own risk does not count for asylum seekers either.
Do refugees or their children have the right to attend schools, universities, etc?
By law, children from the age of 5 up until 18 (formally 16) are obliged to receive education. It is the same for Dutch children and status is of no importance. In the first emergency shelter there are adapted educational programs provided, mainly focused on learning the Dutch language. After officially filing for asylum, registered and moved to an asylum seeking centre, the municipality and schoolboards will try to find a space for a child within the first three months. Some asylum seeking centers have an elementary school on site. Parents have the right to choose a school for their children, though most centers are connected to a certain elementary school in the area. Children between 12 and 18 will attend international transition classes (IKS) and once they have a good knowledge of the language, they will join regular education.It is the obligation of the municipality to provide education in general, other organizations like COA and LOWAN can assist or facilitate the organization and realization of it.
For adults there is a difference between those still awaiting legal status and those with a residence permit. They both can follow secondary education (MBO or HO), but the former have no right to apply for student finance and pay higher school fees. The latter do have the right and pay the same as Dutch students. The type of resident permit, permanent or temporary makes no difference. Adults with no diploma are required to do an intake or competence examination. Adults with a diploma can prove their competences and qualities through a valuation procedure.
There is an organization called the UAF who will exclusively assist refugees. They help with financial aid; this can be in the form of a loan or a gift. They can also assist with extra language lessons and preparation for the labor market.
Do refugees experience obstacles with regard to issues like social life, personal well-being, freedom, etc? Please illustrate briefly.
Yes. One of the obstacles is overcrowded emergency shelters. Refugees stay there for months on end before their asylum process starts. Due to a lack of facilities, old buildings like prisons and gyms were converted into shelters last summer and big camps were set up. In these emergency shelters privacy cannot be guaranteed. Mainly for women this is a big issue as they have to sleep in the same room as unrelated (single) men. The freedom of women is restricted and they cannot practice their religion as they should and would like to.Their safety can also not be guaranteed as (single) women are sexually harassed or even raped.
A lack of freedom and the inability to guarantee safety is also an obstacle for single minor refugees who live in protective shelters. They are restricted in their movement and cannot leave a center without guidance.This is partly for their own safety, but often they also find a way to get out of the shelters and disappear.
Forced moving is also an obstacle.There are different stages of the asylum procedure, which involves moving from the first location at Ter Apel, where people are registered, to one of the 4 process locations (pol) and finally to an asylum seekers center. There are plenty of people who experience forced relocation from one asylum seekers center to another. A location can change its function or simply close depending on the overall number of people seeking asylum in a particular year. This causes serious problems for adults and mainly children’s well being.
The last obstacle is tied to the problem of children having to move all the time, which is getting a proper education (at the same school). There have been examples of children not getting into school until after a few months. Schools are also not equipped to deal with the extra attention these children often require and lack funds, a proper curriculum and teachers who have been trained to deal with refugees and their specific needs.
 Aida Asylum Information Database, Country Report: the Netherlands 6 (November 2015).
www.rijksoverheid.nl, ‘Taakstelling huisvesting vergunninghouders per gemeente 2e helft 2015’
The UNHCR has agreements with about 25 countries on a program to resettle refugees. During special missions they will select people who usually live in refugee camps, which are near or in the country of origin. It’s often very unsafe and people live in poor conditions so these vulnerable groups are given priority. They will suggest them to the countries that take part in these resettlement programs. In the case of the Netherlands, the IND (Immigration and Naturalisation service) selects the people they want to take in. There is no asylum procedure and people have the right to get a residence permit. Since 1986, the Netherlands has a quota of 500 people per year.*
The legal process of acquiring refugee status in the Netherlands starts with filing an asylum application with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) within a few days of entering the country. Individuals from a non-Schengen country that arrive by plane are requested to apply for the asylum status immediately at the Application Centre of Schiphol Amsterdam airport (Aanmeldcentrum Schipol, AC).
When people seeking to get a refugee status arrive in the Netherlands by land, or if they are already in the country, they need to submit an asylum application at the Central Reception Centre (CentraalOpvanglocatie, COL) in Ter Apel (near the city of Groningen). The registration itself entails fingerprinting and checking travel and identity documents. The application for asylum does not automatically mean that the person is granted this status, but only marks the start of the asylum procedure.
The first six days are considered the period of rest and preparation. During this time, the asylum seeker is adjusting to the reality of being in a new country and to the fact that he/she is now in a safe place, away from the situation that pushed him/her to flee. Although these few days are reserved for rest and settling in, a few preparatory investigations and actions do take place and they constitute the preliminary steps of the official asylum procedure.
During these preliminary steps the asylum seeker undergoes a medical examination by the FMMU (an entity separated from the IND) and investigations by the Dutch Royal Police (Koninklijke Marechaussee), counselling is offered by the Dutch Council for Refugees (Vluchtellingwerk Nederland) and by the asylum seeker’s lawyer. Also during this initial period, the IND conducts a research in the Eurodac system to check whether the asylum application is being processed by another state. If the answer is positive, the IND may submit a request to the state to take responsibility for the asylum seeker, who is then transferred to the respective state.
In case the search in Eurodac yields a negative response, the asylum procedure goes forward. In first instance, all asylum procedures are designated to be processed within eight working days. This is known as the “short asylum procedure”. Within the first four days, the IND assesses whether the procedure will be finalized within the eight days or whether it needs to either be extended by six working days or to continue following the timeline of an extended asylum procedure. In the latter case, the IND has a period of six months to make a decision regarding the application. Since 11 February 2016, the period of 6 months has been extended to 15 months, due to the large amount of applications. If deemed necessary, this term can be extended with an extra 3 months to take a proper decision. Even for applications that started prior to February 11th, the legal decision time has been extended to 15 months.
The asylum status can be granted on grounds of family reunification and on other two grounds: if the asylum seeker qualifies as a refugee under Article 1A of the Geneva Convention or if the applicant requires protection according to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 15(c) of the Qualification Directive. Before 1st of January 2014, there were two other grounds for granting refugee status: humanitarian grounds and categorical protection.
If the individual qualifies as a refugee under the Geneva Convention, he/she has a “higher status” than the individual that gets the status under the second criteria in the sense that in case the IND wishes to withdraw the person’s residence permit, it is more difficult to do so in the case of the persons who are granted status under the first criteria.
What happens if the application is rejected?
In case the asylum application is rejected, the person can appeal the decision in a regional court, known as Rechtbank. When the rejection takes place in the short asylum procedure, the individual has one week during which he may submit the appeal. Moreover, his legal representative has 24 hours after the rejection to request a provisional measure to make sure that the asylum seeker is not expelled while waiting for the verdict. After receiving a negative answer on the asylum procedure, a person has the right to accommodation for a period of four weeks, regardless of his decision to appeal the decision or not.
*See http://www.vluchtelingenwerk.nl/sites/public/Vluchtelingenwerk/Cijfers/VLUCHTELINGEN%20IN%20GETALLEN%202015%20definitiefst%20OO%2002092015.pdf,and https://data.overheid.nl/data/dataset/uitgenodigde-vluchtelingen
 Aida Asylum Information Database, Country Report: the Netherlands 14 (November 2015).
 Aida Asylum Information Database, Country Report: the Netherlands 15 (November 2015).
UN General Assembly, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 189.
 Aida Asylum Information Database, Country Report: the Netherlands 15 (November 2015).
 Aida Asylum Information Database, Country Report: the Netherlands 16 (November 2015).
 Aida Asylum Information Database, Country Report: the Netherlands 16 (November 2015).
During the course of approximately two years, I have been in regular contact with a small number of refugees that currently live in the Netherlands. Most of them come from Syria and have been living in their new adoptive country for a short period of time, between three months and almost three years. The time I spent with them has allowed me to gain insight into a fragment of what refugee life is in this European state. Although the answers to the interviews and the discussions we had are not representative for the large number of refugees that live here, they do offer a quite detailed, qualitative approach to the research.
I have followed a topical interview model, which means I have asked a pre-set number of questions, but also had in-depth discussions that evolved spontaneously from the conversations. The pre-set questions were:
- What led you to take the decision to flee your country?
- Why did you asked for asylum in this country?
- Could you tell something about your reception in this country? For example, did you feel welcome, did you experience aggression, did you understand the process you entered?
- What is the situation now in your country?
- Are there other family members planning to seek asylum?
- Do you feel you have a future in this country, for example in terms of a job, housing, permanent residency?
- Knowing what you know now, would you have done the same, or would you have done things differently?
Given the fact that most refugees that I interviewed are originally from Syria, the answer to the first question is obvious. The war has taken a heavy toll and more and more asylum seekers are from this country. At the same time, all those who have found a new home in the Netherlands reported that in spite of feeling safe and relatively welcomed in the Netherlands, they worry about the fate of their country and the relatives and friends they have left behind. A few of the refugees I talked to come from Iran and the reason for seeking asylum has been out of fear of political persecution.
The reason why they applied for asylum in the Netherlands and not in a different country is that some of them already have family here, therefore they applied for reunification. In other cases, the reason is that the Netherlands is one of the few European states that offers work, study and has an overall stable refugee system in place. Most of the refugees interviewed are pleased with the housing system and with the Dutch courses that they took, but not all are optimistic about job opportunities. A few refugees from Eritrea have complained about the fact that they are discriminated against and that it is very difficult for them to find a good job. A few of them have enrolled in Bachelor studies or are pursuing a Master degree. Some of them are working part-time and half of them are involved into volunteer work. How well they will integrate into the Dutch society and find a job that fits their competency and expectations remains to be seen.
Some of them have said that maybe they would have done things differently, or applied for asylum to a different country, but that it is difficult to judge in retrospective. The fact that they have found a sense of stability here is sometimes shadowed by the fact that many of them feel that they have not made too many Dutch friends, that they are not fully accepted. The recent terrorist attacks are unfortunately playing an increasing role in the way in which the refugees are perceived by the Dutch society.
In theory, a person who is not granted the refugee status is deemed not to be in danger of persecution and thus their home country is safe enough to return to. They have four weeks to leave the country while staying in the asylum-seeking centre. If for some reason they cannot leave, they can get a maximum of twelve weeks in a freedom-restrained shelter. In both cases they are assisted in their return by DT&V. DT&V has to make sure the return is registered and carried out in a dignified, careful and fastest way possible. They can also ask for help with their visa or ticket fee from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). If a person is unwilling to cooperate, deportation can be the result. They can always file an appeal to the court against the decision for not getting refugee status and are allowed to stay in the country while waiting for the verdict. If the decision stays the same, the four weeks still apply. The country of origin’s cooperation is also important as procedures can take months.
The media landscape in the Netherlands is relatively uniform, despite that different newspapers represent different political orientations and public opinions, the underlying messages and opinions they transfer do not differ much. The same could be said about television, radio and mainstream internet media. The cause for this might be the Dutch political system; parties are forced to work together which results in the absence of extreme differences in political views.[i] In line with the continuing secularisation of Dutch society,[ii] also the contrasts between different political orientations are increasingly moving towards middle ground.[iii] Where newspapers or broadcasting organisations used to be connected to religious or political convictions,[iv] they are now hard to distinguish in terms of ideology and they generally present news topics in similar ways.[v] Therefore it should be possible to construct one dominant attitude of mainstream media towards refugees and asylum-seekers.
Media landscape (choice of media)
The choice of media to analyse are newspapers; this medium is dedicated to reporting on current events and still is the most prominent platform for journalism. Additionally, because of the space offered by internet newspapers are in the position to report on a more than daily basis on a wide selection of topics. Where news shows on television only have limited time to superficially report on a narrow selection of topics, newspapers have the means to offer a more varied and in in-depth overview of current events. Even though there are television or radio programmes dedicated to in-depth analysis of news topics, the inherent time restrictions of audiovisual media do not allow for the same comprehensiveness as newspapers.
An important part in the representation of refugees – or asylum-seekers – is the word with which they are defined.[vi] A refugee is a person that has left its country and has done so by all probability with a reason; the word implies that this person is fleeing something.[vii] In contrast, an asylum-seeker is a person that is seeking something,[viii] the word implies that this person is motivated by a search for something it does not yet have. Where one word expresses a ‘push factor’, the other word expresses a ‘pull factor’;[ix] the main difference between the two is that the second implies a more voluntary action.[x]
There is a clear division in the use of these two words; when ‘displaced persons’ are treated in an international context, they are predominantly referred to as refugees, while in a national context the most popular word of choice is asylum-seeker.[xi] This implies that the ‘displaced persons’ present in the Netherlands are there because of the presence of something they want. This becomes more evident through the context in which newspaper articles place asylum-seekers: either how a large influx of asylum-seekers can be prevented or how they can be integrated better in Dutch society.[xii] In both cases a point is made of stressing the need for strict and firm laws and regulations. In this regard, the attention that could be given to the plights of refugees and asylum-seekers, is instead given to how the Netherlands copes with their presence; in most cases, news reports – in a national context – do not have asylum-seekers as their actual subject.
The mechanism that forms the basis of this kind of reporting is that the general audience is more interested in news with cultural proximity than in news with a greater cultural distance.[xiii] In this regard, the situation in the country of origin of refugees is of less importance than the harm that asylum-seekers (can) cause the Netherlands; implications are more important than causes. Such reporting does not positively influence the understanding of the Dutch public for asylum-seekers. Especially when the reasons for migration are placed in the context of ‘pull factors’, the absence of empathy in large parts of Dutch society is hardly a surprise.[xiv] To illustrate this further, the Dutch word for refugee, vluchteling, was used in newspaper search engines. The result of this search was, that despite ‘refugee’ being the word of choice for displaced persons outside of the Netherlands, the attention given to the situation in the Netherlands by far outweighs the attention given to the situation in other countries.
An interesting case with regard to the role of cultural proximity in reporting is the media exposure given to persons who take asylum-seekers into their homes,[xv] as a good deed. This phenomenon increases the cultural proximity and at the same time treats a well known subject: housing for asylum-seekers. Despite this being an excellent opportunity to treat the asylum-seeker in question as an individual and report on his or her background, it is again mostly issues of cultural proximity that receive most attention. Journalists seem to prefer the reasons of families or individuals to offer asylum-seekers a place in their home. And, when the asylum-seeker is treated as an individual, it is deemed more interesting to report on his or her adaptation to Dutch society. The actual refugee remains faceless, he or she is now an asylum-seeker whose identity is characterised by being in the Netherlands.
There are exceptions where the ‘push factors’ get attention. For example, new conflicts that cause refugees, like the Syria crisis, but often these conflicts last for years without any significant changes for the better. Soon new conflicts become old conflicts and attention fades. In the same vein, often the region of a conflict has to deal with the majority of the refugees,[xvi] but this does not get the same exposure as how the Netherlands deal with the influx of asylum-seekers. While the number of asylum-seekers coming to the Netherlands is only a fraction of the total number of refugees, the news media give the one-sided and biased impression that the Netherlands have to deal with an endless stream of asylum-seekers. Words such as ‘stream’ are exactly the kind of words the media use, especially when refugees are placed in an international context – as is often the case now with the refugee crisis in and on the borders of the EU. In this reporting it seems as though journalists are trying to bestow a sense of panic; they use apocalyptic ‘water metaphors’[xvii] (flows, waves, floods, etc.) and the rhetoric of large numbers to emphasise that the EU countries cannot handle the influx of refugees into Europe.
A parallel phenomenon to the growing number of refugees, is the increase – or at least the increasing attention for – so-called economic migration.[xviii] The increasing media attention for economic migration, and its negative aspects, has given rise to the assumption that the majority of the immigrants in the Netherlands have come there with economic motives. This further contributes to the implicitly and explicitly present view that also asylum-seekers are guided by economic motives; the consequent effect on their image and the willingness of the general public to welcome them is negative.[xix] To illustrate this further, within one week the so-called quality newspaper NRC Handelsblad (because it supposedly brings quality reporting without compromising to populism) published articles with the titles Vluchteling kiest zijn bestemming uit een folder[xx] (‘Refugee picks his destination from a brochure’) and Nederland? Daar krijg je snel een huis en elke maand zomaar geld[xxi] (‘The Netherlands? There, you quickly get a house and they give you money every month’).
Most people do not directly know refugees or asylum-seekers, or know people who do; in this situation the media plays an important role in how people perceive refugees. It is a main instrument in steering the public opinion with regard to this issue. Because of the important role of news reporting in the interplay between government policy and national media, it is not surprising that both media and government give a lot of attention to issues like ‘the need for stricter policies’, ‘more deportations’, or ‘less benefits for asylum-seekers’. In this regard the uncritical news consumer is given the impression that Europe is overflown by a flood of refugees who have their minds set on coming to the Netherlands to profit from lenient asylum policies and social benefits. The creation of the idea that asylum-seekers are ‘pulled’ to the Netherlands because of leniency towards immigrants, at the same time creates the image that the Dutch policy is not strict enough. Consequently, the dominant public opinion is that from a humanistic perspective the Dutch are willing to take in some asylum-seekers, but only people in ‘real need’, the others are unwanted guests.
Additionally, because the general public is so badly informed, indignation about the harsh realities of being an asylum-seeker rarely occurs. Exceptions are that every now and then a place is given to individual stories; for example,a family that has to be deported, but because of lengthy asylum procedures has integrated into Dutch society. These sorts of individual stories create indignation in the press and amongst the public; politicians have to explain themselves on the basis of these individual stories. However, indignation over the treatment of a – faceless – group occurs rarely. It almost seems that because of the absence of balanced journalism the media feels the need for some form of catharsis or self-cleansing by reporting on these individual stories. But overall the impact of these stories is negligible. Even more so because newspapers will soon go back to their usual type of reporting, keeping the public badly informed and opinions unbalanced.
For the media to take their responsibility, it would be necessary to make two important changes in their reporting. The first would be the context and breadth of news reports on asylum-seekers; the second would be the tone in which articles are written – the same goes for the tone of radio and television media.
[i]Andeweg, R. Governance and Politics of the Netherlands. New York: Palgrave/MacMillan, 2005.
[ii]Becker, J.W, and J.S.J De. Wit. Secularisatie in De Jaren Negentig: Kerklidmaatschap, Veranderingen in Opvattingen En Een Prognose. Den Haag: Sociaal En Cultureel Planbureau, 2000.
[iii]“Verzuiling.” Verzuiling. Parlement & Politiek, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2015. <http://www.parlement.com/id/vh8lnhrpfxub/verzuiling>.
[iv]Bardoel, J., Vos C., Vree van F., Wijfjes, H. Journalistieke cultuur in Nederland. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2002.
[v]Tanghe, F. Links is soms rechts. Over gelijkheid, democratie en multiculturalisme. Antwerpen/ Amsterdam: Houtekiet, 2004.
[vi]Kranenberg, A. “Willen We Minder of Meer Vluchtelingen?” De Volkskrant. De Persgroep Nederland, 22 Aug. 2015.
[vii]“Refugees: Flowing Across Borders.” UNHCR News. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, n.d. <http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c125.html>.
[viii]“Asylum-Seekers.” UNHCR News. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2015. <http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c137.html>.
[ix]Clemens, M. A., and J. Sandefur. “A Self-Interested Approach to Migration Crises: Push Factors, Pull Factors, and Investing In Refugees.” Foreign Affairs (2015): n. pag. Foreign Affairs. 27 Sept. 2015.
[x]Bijleveld, C., & Tasselaar, A.P. Motieven van asielzoekers om naar Nederland te komen. Verslag van een expertmeeting. Ministerie van Justitie: Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek- en Documentatiecentrum, 2000.
[xi]Kitzen, M. “Vluchtelingen Aan De Nieuwspoort.” Thesis. Universiteit Van Amsterdam, 2004.
[xii]For example: a large influx that is difficult to handle: “Spanningen Bij Tijdelijke Opvang Vluchtelingen in Zwolle Lopen Op.” Nrc.nl. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2015. <http://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2014/10/08/spanningen-bij-tijdelijke-opvang-vluchtelingen-in-zwolle-lopen-op>.
Europe is being trampled by asylum-seekers: “Griekenland Nu Europees Koploper Met Aantal Vluchtelingen.” Nos.nl. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2015. <http://nos.nl/artikel/2043328-griekenland-nu-europees-koploper-met-aantal-vluchtelingen.html>.
Make the Netherlands less attractive for asylum-seekers: “VVD: Maak Nederland Onaantrekkelijk Voor Vluchtelingen.” Nrc.nl. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2015. <http://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2015/10/10/zijlstra-vvd-maak-nederland-onaantrekkelijk-voor-vluchtelingen>.
[xiii]Leurdijk, Andra. Televisiejournalistiek over De Multiculturele Samenleving. Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis, 1999.
[xiv]For example, protests against new centres for asylum seekers, or calls for tougher regulations.
[xv]For example: Bolwijn, M. “Steeds Meer Nederlanders Vangen Thuis Vluchteling Op.” De Volkskrant. De Persgroep Nederland, Apr. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015. <http://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/steeds-meer-nederlanders-vangen-thuis-vluchteling-op~a3952976/>.
[xvi]“Internally Displaced People Figures.” UNHCR News. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, n.d. 21 Nov. 2015. <http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646c23.html>.
[xvii]Gorp, Baldwin Van. Framing Asiel: Indringers En Slachtoffers in De Pers. Leuven: Acco, 2006.
[xviii]“Vrede En Veiligheid Niet Genoeg Voor Economische Vluchteling.” Elsevier. Reed Business Information, Apr. 2015. 21 Nov. 2015. <http://www.elsevier.nl/Buitenland/achtergrond/2015/4/Vrede-en-veiligheid-is-niet-genoeg-voor-economische-vluchteling-1753081W/>.
[xix]Bakker, M., and F. Obbema. “Geen Draagvlak Voor ‘meer Vluchtelingen'” De Volkskrant. De Persgroep Nederland, Aug. 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015. <http://www.volkskrant.nl/buitenland/geen-draagvlak-voor-meer-vluchtelingen~a4121474/>.
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Floris: The Netherlands takes great pride in its liberal attitude and tolerant society. It also takes much pleasure in portraying itself as civilised and enlightened, especially in comparison to Mediterranean and Eastern Europe. The ongoing refugee and migration crisis gives fresh opportunity to pedantically look at those countries – that often function as points of entry and transit routes, pretending that it is not a European struggle, but a distant spectacle. And now, as the crisis is coming too close for comfort, the Dutch government is all too eager to support and justify the closure of EU borders for those fleeing despair.
What characterises the Dutch attitude is a lack of both realism and idealism. Even though it tries to justify its harsh stance (for the sake of the argument, unwillingness to help desperate people is categorised as harsh) through objective arguments like numbers, quota, conventions and laws, it is clear that this objective attitude is all but realistic. First of all, the Netherlands is acting in violation of EU law and has repeatedly been slapped on the wrists for denying basic human rights to asylum seekers. Second, the disagreements between the different EU member states show that the current regulations, like the Dublin Regulation, have a weak support base. It would be realistic to dismiss the existing regulations as being dysfunctional, work around them, and make an effort to work towards a humane and manageable situation.
However, such an effort requires some basic sense of idealism. On the basis of this report it can be concluded that exactly this is lacking in the Dutch attitude. The initiatives to incite a humane and welcoming attitude towards asylum seekers are little, and by far overshadowed by the initiatives to keep them as far away as possible; not even to mention all the effort that is put into guarding status quo. From a political perspective this can be explained by a fear of losing public support. On the one hand this is logical, politics are cautious in decisions and stances. On the other hand, it is insane that the basic assumption is that the general public fears refugees, or at best is not enthusiastic. It should be said that it is equally insane that there is an absence in mainstream politics of an assumption that there is public support for a humane treatment of people in need.
This lack of idealism is also noticeably present in the media. Refugees are mostly portrayed as faceless and anonymous parts of a flock of heathens, coming to disrupt the civilised welfare state. It is alarming to see that the media are so uniform in their reporting on the refugee crisis and do not take their responsibility of reflecting a pluralistic society. They display the same urge to feed public fear and guard status quo as politics does. It seems that the fear of losing is greater than the fear of not gaining; and the EU has a lot to gain in this refugee crisis. This attitude is not new in Dutch society; it is merely so that the refugee crisis brings – again – to light the provincial fear towards the stranger and the disturbances he brings. That this mindset is not new, can be illustrated by a remark made in 2006 by the then prime-minister, he said that he would like people to take the Dutch Golden Age as an example, for there to be less negativity and restrain, and more optimism and boldness. The ensuing mockery by media and fellow politicians would certainly also happen in the current fear of change and initiative. The irony is that the influx of refugees during the Golden Age greatly contributed to the then cultural and economic prosperity; while our current times are characterised by both economic and cultural crisis.
To conclude, what this report shows is that politics, law and also media hamper and obstruct an open discussion about the European refugee crisis and the role the Netherlands should play. A fearful, provincial and egoistic attitude is fostered, obscuring the actual issue. A humanitarian disaster is taking place and it is ridiculous that acting and making a difference is not a priority. When one looks at the Dutch law with regard to refugees and asylum seekers, this has never been a priority; the scale of the current refugee crisis merely emphasises this in a grotesque way. What is equally – and grotesquely – emphasised is that the media and, accordingly, the general public do not care enough to incite change, or at least meaningful discussion. It is not only the situation of the refugees that often seems hopeless; also the state of human compassion and the ability to show it seems in a sad state.
Jelle: Mainly the commitment from the government to make the asylum process as clear and humane as possible seems to be lacking. The prolongation of the decision deadline is an example of this. Another is the constant movement between asylum centres and the separation of families, men and women or minors from adults. There might be some advantages to helping minors, but a centre full of young men (usually the case) going through puberty and full of hormones is not exactly smart. People also cannot transfer to a camp to be reunited with family unless it’s a mother, father or sibling. These procedures only purpose seem to be to frustrate people. They can make people who are already stressed, hopeless and frightened depressed. This is not beneficial and actually detrimental to a person’s (mental) health. It does not only affect the person(s) involved, but also fellow inhabitants and employees working in the asylum centres. The Netherlands is walking a fine line of human rights violations and openly tries to dissuade people from filing for asylum here. That is concerning to say the least. Another problem is politicians making deals without the consent of municipalities or at least its citizens. Last minute announcements of large groups of people assigned or relocated to centres in small villages are quite common, which does not benefit the asylum seekers nor the current inhabitants. Luckily, the government is looking at more locations to spread out the number of asylum seekers. Several big centres are closing in favour of smaller centres. That is a good sign.
Overall there is a system in place and the majority are provided with the basics of food, clothes and shelter. Some emergency centres, which are temporarily, and even asylum seeking centres lack these provisions and proper basic amenities. There have been complaints about not enough or no toilets present. Also no toilet paper, soap or hot water; bad food and lack of privacy for mainly women. It seems to be in line with the infamous ‘sober’ policy implemented by Halbe Zijlstra (state secretary of Education, Culture and Science) who believes the Dutch welfare and way of life should be protected. Not exactly promising for the future. There is also the bed, bath and bread arrangement to provide the basics, which is very controversial, and even that was too much according to Fred Teeven (state secretary of Safety & Justice). It is clear that following the plans laid out by politicians caused human rights violations and a purposeful thwarting of court rulings and agreements on both international and national level pertaining to people seeking asylum in the country. This needs to change. Also improvements need to be made to keep families together, keep the movement of people between centres to a minimum, improve and shorten the decision process (though with the recent extension that seems out of the question).
Adina: Since I am a foreigner myself and I have been living in the Netherlands for only a bit over two years, I am aware that I do not have a full grasp of the Dutch society. Some of my observations are therefore biased in this regard. Also, I think that to a certain degree it has been easier for me to meet and befriend refugees –both they and I attended Dutch courses and try to integrate into the Dutch society. I also understand some of their frustrations that come from simply “being away from home.” That being said, there are more differences than similarities as I have to say, the fact that I am European has made it easier for me in many respects. One of the complaints I have heard on a number of occasions has been that the refugees have not made too many Dutch friends.
In this respect, I think it is very important to create opportunities for the groups to mingle and socialize and make of the most of the cultural differences instead of using them as an excuse to not know the “other”. Fortunately, a Facebook group named Refugee Start Force has been created at the beginning of 2016 and it already has almost 6,000 members. It addresses the need of putting refugees in contact with Dutch volunteers. This aspect is essential because as I noticed during my interviews with the refugees, one of the very important aspects of feeling integrated and finding a job is having a network of people that can help you understand how things work.
Many refugees do not have diplomas from their home countries to prove their level of education, some have gaps in their CV due to the time they spent in the AZC (some up to up to 5 or even 10 years waiting for a decision). It is therefore crucial that they receive the proper help to “make up” in a way for what they think of as “the lost years”. I think that one major problem is that the asylum seeking procedure can be very lengthy and that during the time they wait for a decision, the asylum seekers do not have the right to work or study. I believe it is essential that they are offered courses and working opportunities, or volunteer jobs. I understand that due to a lack of funding, it may not be possible to offer courses to people that may not even get the refugee status, but I believe that the AZC centres could collaborate with volunteers who would come to the centres and offer language courses, not necessarily Dutch, but English for example. Cooking classes, gardening, math or crash computer courses would be useful as people have repeatedly complained of the lack of activities during the period they spent waiting for a decision to be made in their case. The fact that some people are in certain respects deprived of freedom for years, without being able to engage into the Dutch society and develop their skills can have a mentally damaging effect that is severely overlooked. Children need to have access to a minimum degree of home-schooling and the asylum seekers need to interact with people outside the AZC centres and have an understanding of the Dutch society before they are granted the refugee status. It is necessary to address the fact that many of the asylum seekers feel that their life is “on hold” and that no one takes into account the levels of stress that the uncertainty of their status brings. Also, this explains part of the difficulties they face when they do receive the refugee status and have to become active members of the society after a long period of stress and inactivity.
Another important aspect is to have a unified European legislation and that the refugee “problem” is not regarded as a Greek problem, or a Turkish, or German one. It is probably unrealistic to expect that all the states equally share the “burden” because of the different capacities they have to receive and integrate refugees. Also, the refuges themselves would rather be welcomed to a country that has a good system in place and does offer them a concrete chance of starting a new life, rather than to one that is struggling with violation of human rights concerning its own citizens. Therefore, I think that it is important for those that militate for a more open and united Europe to have a realistic view on how the situation is “in the field” and that the solution needs to come with the approval of all the parties involved, but also to have a higher degree of honesty. The impression that I get is that the Netherlands, as many other European countries considers that someone else should “fix the problem.” Therefore, until countries stop looking at each other for answers, I am afraid that no solution will be found any time soon. It seems that while many states view themselves as human rights promoters, they take a different attitude regarding what they see as waves of people who come from an unknown land and from an unknown culture. I think that the media should have a responsible approach and that its role in dangerously intensifying the crisis should be addressed. Freedom of speech has been so much fought for, but at the same time I believe that nowadays it has been taken to the opposite extreme and people tolerate a high level of abuse of speech. This is particularly worrisome as it seems that the fact that mass-media tap into feelings of fear and insecurity and in some cases incite to hatred is not addressed sufficiently.
As a Romanian citizen, I find it difficult to criticize the Dutch refugee system, first of all because I am aware of the many issues concerning the refugees and my own country, but also because there are many factors that play an important role. Tolerance and integration are beautiful concepts in theory, but in practice, Netherlands, as many other countries, prove to be less open to welcoming and integrating people who come from different backgrounds and cultures. I see also a high number of volunteers who have taken the matter into their own hands and who try to wash away the shame of those who are less tolerant, but much more needs and has to be done.
Adina Loredana Nistor
After moving to the Netherlands, I started learning the Dutch language at the university, during a full time course that lasted several months. There I had the opportunity of meeting wonderful people from various corners of the world. Many of them have one thing in common: they are refugees. As we got to know each other better and we became friends, I got to learn more about their personal journeys, their struggles, joys and adjustment to their new life. With their collaboration I started a series of interviews about the refugees in the Netherlands. When I brought this idea forward to the other IWB members, it was met with a lot of enthusiasm. The ideas that followed led to this bigger project that I am now a part of.