Latest news in the field of asylum: the application center in Bant, municipality of Noordoostpolder, will not be built. The reason? Lack of support from local residents. State Secretary Van der Burg (Asylum) has to look for a new place to relieve Ter Apel.
Will he find a suitable location, where the inhabitants are open to asylum seekers as neighbours? Obviously that is not. Last summer, protests broke out in several municipalities against the reception of asylum seekers. For example, bystanders in Maurik tried a to stop a bus with migrants, who would be housed in the town hall. And when Van der Burg designated an empty hotel in Albergen as an asylum shelter, the residents went out to the state with protest signs and inverted flags. ‘Azc, no no no.’
The Twente village experienced a first: for the first time, the cabinet obliged a municipality to receive asylum seekers. The State Secretary saw no other option, after a summer in which migrants were forced to spend the night on a lawn in Ter Apel. Now the minister has a new law in the making, which should make coercion towards unwilling municipalities easier.
Meanwhile, research agency I&O Research sees a slight decrease of support for asylum. In 2015, the year in which large numbers of Syrians came to the Netherlands, 65 percent of the Dutch saw it as their ‘moral duty’ to receive asylum seekers properly. Currently, 60 percent agree with that statement.
Can this trend be reversed? Are there ways to increase support for the reception of asylum seekers? It turns out to be a question that has been researched by various Dutch scientists. These are the most important insights.
Karin Geuijen, assistant professor of public administration and migration policy, Utrecht University: strive for a win-win situation
‘The government can do a number of things to increase support for asylum reception. To start with, you can strive for a win-win situation, in which both the neighborhood and asylum seekers benefit from an asylum seekers’ center. The municipality of Utrecht, for example, devised Plan Einstein: in 2016 an asylum seekers center was opened in Overvecht with a few dozen rooms for young people from the neighborhood, and local residents were allowed to participate in courses on, for example, entrepreneurship. That was successful: asylum seekers and people from the neighbourhood started businesses.
‘Small scale is also important for support for asylum reception. That we have known for a long time. Our research into Plan Einstein once again showed that small-scale reception works better. In the beginning, 40 asylum seekers and 38 young people lived there. That mixed together, had barbecues together. But after a while there were 400 asylum seekers. Then the two groups began to live more and more at odds with each other.
‘Politicians can do a lot to increase support. How do they frame the arrival of asylum seekers? From the Ukrainians there are this year more than 75 thousand came our way, but that was presented by politicians as an organizational problem, something you can solve with a little good will. At the same time, this year less than 30,000 asylum seekers reported – much less so. But that is presented as a huge crisis that politicians do not know how to deal with. That drives the views of the public.
‘Finally, the economic integration of asylum seekers is important. I did research into an interesting project in South Limburg: ‘In care, out of care’. Admitted asylum seekers are trained there to become a care worker. It is precisely in South Limburg, with its aging population, that there is a great need for healthcare personnel. You could also set up something like this for promising asylum seekers, from Afghanistan or Yemen, for example. Then their integration can start immediately after arrival and they become no longer just seen as a problem.’
Tom Postmes, professor of social psychology, University of Groningen: restore trust in government
‘Resistance to asylum reception is often related to broader social discontent, as we have found research. Some of the Dutch are very concerned about housing, about work. These people are not against migrants in principle, but they believe that they themselves have the first right to care from the government.
‘The objections of this group, which is by the way rather small, are twofold. On the one hand, these people have little faith in the government. They are convinced: the government is not in a position to properly arrange asylum reception. On the other hand, they also have little confidence in themselves. They think they can’t have migrants with the problems they already have.
‘I suspect that these kinds of objections are aggravated by the crisis in the housing market. Our research dates from a time when housing was hardly the subject of political debate. Even then, the lack of housing was already one of the main arguments against migration. Let alone now.
‘Anyone who wants to increase support for asylum reception will therefore have to remove concrete concerns. It doesn’t help to keep describing the discomfort in abstract terms. And it doesn’t help to just make firm statements. Drivers have to push through. Listening to the concerns of the population and then finding solutions in the relevant environment.
‘The discontent in society is always attributed to a new crisis: first the economic crisis, then migration, then corona. But in reality it has to do with the loss of trust in government. You can only restore that by creating practical solutions.’
Monique Kremer, professor by special appointment of active citizenship at the UvA and chair of the Migration Advisory Council: emphasize the benefits
“If there’s one thing people need, it’s a sense of control. This is apparent, for example, from the work of the Austrian migration expert Martin Ruhs: people want to feel that they have a grip on the situation. Ruhs showed that the acceptance of asylum seekers is greater if there are requirements for their arrival, such as an annual maximum number, or if families are only allowed to come if they are able to provide for their livelihood.
‘The images that circulated this summer, about the complete chaos in Ter Apel, obviously do not contribute to such a sense of control. This leads to an increase in fear of asylum seekers. At the same time, we know that resistance to an asylum seekers’ center almost always ebb once it is established somewhere. The sense of control returns.
‘Part of the resistance against migrants stems from the idea that the welfare state would then no longer be tenable. That’s why people stand more positive towards migrants who work. The problem is that asylum seekers are not allowed to work in the Netherlands: not at all for the first six months, and then only to a very limited extent. The reaction of the population is then: those asylum seekers are not doing anything.
‘An interesting scientific term in that context is refugee keynesianism. In the Netherlands, rightly so, it is about the humanitarian basis under asylum reception, but little about the social costs and benefits. While: if the national government invests in asylum reception and a good embedding in society, it can be done at a local level turn out well economically.
‘You see that in Ter Apel, for example. Before the application center was there, there were many concerns about unemployment. The arrival of the application center brought new jobs, for example at the supermarkets where asylum seekers spend their living allowance.’
Marcel Lubbers, professor of relations between groups and cultures, Utrecht University: more often locate asylum seekers’ centers in neighborhoods where many highly educated people live
‘If you ask people whether they think it is acceptable for an asylum seekers center to be built in their area, most of them will say: yes, under certain conditions. The most important condition: such an asylum seekers’ center must not be too large. Big centers in small places, that creates resistance. I have also seen this in my own research: many people think the arrival of 50 refugees really no problembut 500 does.
‘In addition, people want asylum seekers to be equally distributed across the Netherlands. They do not want to feel that their neighborhood or municipality has to make a disproportionate contribution. So I also understand that people in Bant have said: why should we now also have an application center if we already house a thousand asylum seekers here?
‘The willingness to receive shelter is greater among a large part of the population when refugees come up close, when they resemble themselves, for example because they being christian. It could make a difference to recognize that. If more resistance is expected, small-scale reception seems more important to me.
“The proportion of society concerned about immigrants is actually quite significant” stable. The people who have a negative attitude towards asylum seekers, however, give different reasons for this. Forty years ago it was the labor market and the economy. Cultural differences ten years ago. And the housing market has been a cause for concern in recent years. Those underlying issues need attention. Now that would mean to to arrange houses for the local populationsimultaneously with housing for refugees.
‘Which is also interesting: highly educated are more inclined to support asylum reception than the less educated. So are the voters of GroenLinks and D66. That could be a reason to place asylum seekers’ centers more often in neighborhoods where a lot of votes are cast for those parties.’