The issue: ‘Approach to Antillean problem youth is working, but not sufficiently well’

Text: Gert van der Ende / Photography: Ronald van den Heerik

In recent weeks there were serious shoot-outs involving Antillean youth in Rotterdam, Arnhem and Zoetermeer. The PVV, CDA and VVD political parties are of the opinion that Antilleans found guilty of serious violent crimes should be sent back to the Antilles. Tomislav Tudjman, associated with Risbo, conducted research into Antillean youth: ‘A small group has problems, but this is by no means trivial.’

Things recently turned nasty: a shoot-out in Arnhem with one fatality, a shoot-out in Rotterdam, a shoot-out in Zoetermeer, also resulting in a fatality, and every time Antilleans are involved. What is going on? “The largest group of Antilleans in the Netherlands does not cause any problems in terms of criminal activity and also does not carry any weapons. However, a small group is committing serious crimes and is not afraid to use brute force. However, for every Antillean who has committed a serious criminal offence, there are ten examples of Dutch autochthon men who did the same.”

However, are Antilleans in fact relatively overrepresented?"Yes."

Therefore, it is not strange that Antilleans are so often causing uproar in the media. Are they above-average in terms of their criminal activity, unemployment and incomplete education? “Yes, that has been demonstrated, on the understanding that they form only a small part of the Netherlands population. There are approximately 140,000 Antilleans in total, representing 0.8% of the overall population. A large segment is doing well, that must also be said, and that is not to make a politically correct statement. However, a small group is causing problems, and this is by no means trivial. Unemployment among the Antillean working population is approximately 10 to 11 percent. The school dropout rate is about 8 to 9 percent and criminal activity fluctuates around 6 percent. These are all relatively very high numbers; Antilleans are head and shoulders above everyone else in this respect.”

Furthermore, it is as if all Antillean criminals carry a gun and are extremely violent. Is that a coincidence? “Violence is not a cultural factor since extreme violence among Antilleans was very rare up to ten years ago. What we are seeing now is that women too are sometimes violent. It is unclear to researchers like me what is causing this.”

What are the reasons for the overrepresentation of Antilleans in terms of unemployment, school dropout rates and crime statistics? “Academic researchers have been focusing on this for decades, but there is no simple answer to this. The factors that play a role among other things are that they form a low economic class and that there are few binding factors. They do not really form a group; there is no significant social cohesion, there is social poverty which is creating fragmented family structures that at a certain point also appear to have become cultural: no stable families, the father is often absent or unknown; the woman often rears the children by herself.”

Is that a question of culture? For example, it strikes me that if I see a teenage mother, the probability is high that she is Antillean. Or am I being prejudiced? “Yes, teenage mothers are particularly prevalent among Antilleans and Surinamese, much more so than among other population groups. Primarily because they form a low economic class – teenage mothers are also more prevalent among the Dutch autochthon population with a low level of education. In other words, this really applies to all population groups. Although it is generally known that in the Surinamese and Antillean culture it is very normal for men to support multiple women. This is accepted within these cultures and in fact enhances one’s status and reputation.”

You just said that there is barely any group cohesion; do Antilleans not value acquaintances and friends very much? “Yes, they do, but there is no self-regulating mechanism, such as the mechanism that exists in the Turkish community. They have much stronger family ties and as result call each other to account much more quickly and more often in relation to undesirable behaviour: ‘Like, act appropriately’.”

Alright, but for the past six years or so, 21 municipalities are tackling the problems involving Antillean youth, right? “Yes. Throughout the country, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Integration entered into administrative arrangements for the period 2005-2008 with 21 municipalities where at least 2 percent of the population has an Antillean background. These are large municipalities, such as Rotterdam, Amsterdam and The Hague, but also cities such as Leeuwarden, Amersfoort, Den Helder and Groningen. That arrangement calls for these municipalities to reduce the overrepresentation of Antilleans within four years in three different areas: unemployment by 30 percent, the school dropout rate by 50 percent and the crime rate by 30 percent.”

You investigated whether this approach works? “Indeed. We investigated this in two ways. On the one hand, we conducted a process evaluation of approximately 40 of the total of 126 projects developed by these municipalities. With project managers and personnel from various municipalities, we discussed themes such as work counselling and assistance in finding work, the school dropout rate, accommodation and fighting crime, as a way of identifying issues and success factors, but also for the purpose of coming up with new ideas. In addition we carried out an effectiveness evaluation, even though not all data for all projects was up to date to the same degree. We studied the figures in national and municipal databases to assess to what degree projects have contributed to reducing the problem.”

And? “The situation improved in almost all municipalities, however by no means did they succeed in curbing the overrepresentation, let alone cutting it in half. This is difficult to tackle, because the problems are multiple. This is why these initiatives linked up to local developments in the municipality, because they have the knowledge and insight into their own community. Projects and interventions were established related to the three abovementioned objectives. The approach adopted by the municipalities differs in degree. For example, Rotterdam and Leeuwarden, focused very strongly on crime prevention and repression. On the other hand, Zoetermeer strongly focused on reducing the school dropout rate. There are therefore differences, in part also due to the fact that not every municipality is affected to the same degree by Antillean risk youth.”

Rotterdam appears to be successful, while this is by far not the case for all municipalities, right? “The preventative approach used by Rotterdam consists of the appointment of dozens of family coaches and school attendance officers. Youth are actively searched out and guided to various projects, such as reintegration projects, and back to school. At the same time the police force has set up a special ‘A Team’, with orders to carefully monitor this target group – especially in South Rotterdam. Neighbourhood officers have a good grasp of what is going on, as a result of which it was possible to apprehend the real perpetrators. But Rotterdam does not only use repression as its approach, it is also proactive. This is because there are ringleaders and followers. Ringleaders must be apprehended, but followers are still tottering at the edge and can be saved with sound proactive programmes. Rotterdam put a lot of effort into developing these programmes."

During these four years things went well in Rotterdam. How well, in statistical terms? “The school dropout rate dropped from 13.5 to 7.2 percent; unemployment from 37 to 9.8 percent; the crime rate in fact increased from 11 to 13 percent, but during that period the crime rate rose across the entire line. In comparison to the overall population, only unemployment is now still relatively high.”

What is working particularly well? “The best thing to do is to look for the relationship between various projects, because multiple problems are involved. In other words, it is important to combine things and provide proper coordination; multiple social workers – but no overkill – who work well together, as well as with the Antillean community itself. In short, a combination of projects that have the confidence of the group and that are based on individual wishes and needs.”

Do you have any concrete examples? “For example the re-education of teenage mothers and offering them training programmes, so that they in turn can properly raise their children. They in fact form an important link. This form of preventative policy is still practiced far too little at present. Children are given a great deal of freedom in terms of their comings and goings, not only in terms of their behaviour outside, but also in the sexual domain.”

What does not work? “Projects that are purely based on meeting together. While this provides people with an opportunity to tell their stories, if nothing further happens other than having a little chat, it’s all for nought.”

What do you think of the idea of returning Antillean criminals back to their island? “That makes little sense; they will simply come back again, either via Schiphol or Belgium. That’s because there’s nothing for them to do anymore on the islands either.”

Is that not very expensive, all those coaches, officers, the one-on-one approach? “Rotterdam has invested a great deal of money in this, approximately € 13 million over four years. The municipality clearly gave it priority.”

Would it not be more efficient to keep out underprivileged Antilleans – for example, if they do not have a job or will not be enrolling in an education programme? “The islands are part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. You should instead properly invest in good education and proper counselling on the islands themselves, so that youth can be offered perspective at an early stage. At the present time, they are sent to the Netherlands by their families precisely because this is lacking.”

You are not arguing for economising on this approach. Are you not afraid of a right-wing cabinet? “I expect a cabinet like that to strongly focus on repression and much less on social assistance. This way you obviously remove the extreme elements, but not the underlying problems. I sincerely hope that the preventative and social projects will not become a casualty.”

Wednesday, September 22th 2010 (week 38).


The issue is a section in Erasmus Magazine, the opinion and information magazine of Erasmus University Rotterdam, in which an EUR-academic responds to a current-social issue.


Tomislav Tudjman (1976), completed his studies in public administration at Erasmus University Rotterdam in 2001. He has been associated with the Risbo, an independent research institute linked to the Social Science Faculty of Erasmus University, since 2005. His expertise lies in the area of social issues and policy – such as living together in districts and neighbourhoods and social participation and safety – and European issues. Furthermore, he is a specialist in the area of youth and youngsters, particularly in relation to rearing issues, problem families, and care and wellbeing. The Risbo study ‘Evaluatie Bestuurlijke Arrangementen Antillianengemeenten 2005 – 2008’ (Evaluation of Administrative Arrangements for Antillean Municipalities 2005-2008), in which Tomislav Tudjman collaborated, was published in 2010.