Undocumented people speak for themselves during policy seminar on protection of their rights

Seminar participants

A double move involving the strengthening of undocumented people’s leadership and the widening of inclusive spaces in which people can learn, work and access services independent of their immigration status is necessary for undocumented people to be able to realise their rights.

This was one of the conclusions of the policy seminar on “Towards better protection of undocumented people in the area of work and health” (see attached programme below) that took place at ISS in The Hague on the afternoon of 1 November 2017.

Organized by researchers from Tilburg University jointly with ISS faculty, the seminar enabled a constructive dialogue between people who do not often meet: undocumented people themselves, migrant support organisations, trade unionists, but also representatives of Dutch municipalities and government ministries.

Effective access to healthcare

In her introductory input, ISS researcher Karin Astrid Siegmann highlighted that undocumented people’s fear of identification, fines and discriminatory treatment presents a key obstacle to their effective access to healthcare.

Information about health rights through trusted social networks can offer an effective antidote to these fears. Her presentation (attached below) was based on a participatory study with Helen Hintjens and Richard Staring on the access of irregular migrants to healthcare in the Netherlands. Undocumented women and men themselves acted as researchers in the study.

Siegmann also proposed bolder steps (see attached policy brief below) towards the realization of health rights of undocumented migrants in Dutch cities. They included the extension of the guarantee of risk-free reporting to violations of labour regulation as well as undocumented people’s coverage with social security mechanisms similar to other European examples.

Labour and human rights

On the terrain of labour and human rights, access to effective protection remains difficult to realise for undocumented migrants, as shown by Lisa Berntsen, postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at INTERVICT, Tilburg University.

The vulnerability of undocumented people is multidimensional: vulnerability in the domain of work is related to other spheres, such as health, housing, knowledge of and access to social support and protection mechanisms. Berntsen’s presentation was (see presentation below) part of a study on the ‘Protection of labour migrants in the Netherlands’ research project, funded by Institute Gak and run by Conny Rijken, Tesseltje de Lange and Lisa Berntsen.

Policy scenarios

During a discussion of the feasibility of different policy scenarios, the distribution of cards listing the health and labour rights of undocumented (similar to the card on the safe reporting of crimes), creating inclusive activities related to language education and skills development, as well as possibilities for legalisation, were put forward as concrete ideas to strengthen the position of undocumented people.

Based on the constructive dialogue with the participants from various levels of government and civil society, the researchers will draft a policy brief with the recommendations to improve the position of undocumented migrants in the Netherlands.

Referring to the suggestion to learn from the experience of US cities of sanctuary to create more welcoming places in Europe, Tesseltje de Lange concluded the dialogue with the observation that: “It is appropriate to discuss undocumented people’s rights at ISS as the institute is a little sanctuary in itself.”