New Dutch law as an opportunity for successful integration

Spark interview with Jaco Dagevos
Jan van der Ploeg

"The dispersion law is an opportunity to further develop the participation model, enabling asylum seekers and refugees to integrate faster and better," says Professor of Integration and Migration at Erasmus University and senior researcher at The Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP), Jaco Dagevos. "I am pleased with it."

Dagevos conducts research on the integration and position of refugees who have come to the Netherlands in recent years. He concludes that it is crucial for asylum seekers to quickly engage with Dutch society. "How does it feel when you have to move a lot or have nothing to do? Research shows that it has negative consequences for mental health, language acquisition, and integration into the job market." This is the reality for many asylum seekers. With the current ‘asylum model’, refugees often have to wait for a long time until their application is processed, a decision is made and therefore face various barriers to employment. Until recently, asylum seekers were only allowed to work a maximum of 24 weeks per year. Dagevos says, "If an employer had trained someone well, they had to let them go again."

A better start

"I was pleased that this measure was taken off the table last year and that asylum seekers can now find work more easily. The interesting thing is that it was ultimately thanks to employers as well." Due to labour market shortages and the arrival of Ukrainians who are allowed to work immediately, employers see that asylum seekers can also be valuable workers. "We give people a much better start when they can participate in society. They become familiar with Dutch society and the job market sooner, learn the language faster, and their uncertainty about their own situation diminishes when they have perspective."

Participation model

The dispersion law, which came into effect on 1 February 2024, can also contribute to this. The new law, officially the Municipal Task Enabling Act for Asylum Reception Facilities, states that there should be sufficient reception centers for asylum seekers and that these places should be more evenly distributed across municipalities and provinces. "If asylum seekers are then placed directly in the place or region where they will live, it is easier for municipalities to start with integration policy. I call this the 'participation model.' The future of the asylum seeker comes first. The starting point is determining what this person needs to integrate well into Dutch society. Then the chance of successful integration is greater. In the participation model, reception policy is the first step in integration."

Cruise ship Silja Europe
Cruise ferry Silja Europe has been in the Merwehaven since 1 July 2023. Currently, there are 1500 refugees living on the ship, waiting for housing. 1000 of them will stay in Rotterdam, the other 500 will live in towns around Rotterdam. Because these refugees are already staying in Rotterdam, it gives the municipality of Rotterdam more opportunities to start integration early. 

From camp to community

Many people staying in large reception centres refer to it as staying in 'the camp’. Dagevos says, "It would be nice if we can turn the 'camp' into a 'community.'" He also sees an opportunity for this with the new dispersion law, which provides more opportunities to start smaller locations. "The smaller reception centers are positive for perception." Now we mainly know about Ter Apel’s reception centre and stories of disturbances. But in some municipalities, there are already positive experiences, where smaller groups live and work to everyone's satisfaction. Take the municipalities of Meijerestad and Putte, both in North Brabant, where local businesses no longer view newcomers with suspicion but see it as a solution to labour market problems. "We have to make the best of it, both for newcomers and for those who have lived in a village or city for a long time. If that's the starting point, it creates two-way traffic: relationships with employers, with the municipality, and with volunteers. In this way, communities can emerge that everyone can benefit from. For example, if local residents can also attend activities in reception centers. I'm thinking of catering or language lessons. But there are many more activities to think of. Activities that can be attractive to everyone."

Making an impact

"Research matters, I'm convinced of that. I want to make an impact on policy processes, but always based on research. That's why I feel at home as a professor at Erasmus University." After all, the university wants to contribute to solving societal issues, in close collaboration with others. "In my research, I am eager to collaborate extensively. "With other researchers from Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences, with researchers from the Research and Business Intelligence (OBI) department of the municipality of Rotterdam. And of course, with researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (SCP) and organisations like the WODC and CBS. Together, we have more knowledge. All these different types of knowledge are necessary. It’s great to complement each other because then the impact will be greater. Because all the work must lead somewhere."

More information

This interview is part of Spark. With these interviews, we aim to draw attention to the positive impact of the faculty's education and research on society. The stories in Spark give an insight into what makes ESSB students, alumni, staff and researchers tick.

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