Twenty years ago, I began researching at the University of Groningen on asylum-seeking children and families in proceedings. Two years later, we concluded that refugee children are under serious threat to their development. They are traumatized by the uncertain perspective, the long wait, the stress, and the numerous relocations. They were very anxious, stopped making friends and could not concentrate in school. Their fathers are no longer fathers.
All of this was largely caused by the way we set up reception and carry out procedures in the Netherlands. Now it’s 2022 and nothing fundamental has changed. In fact, it’s worse than ever for children and their parents. Last week, the Inspectorate of Justice, Security, Health Care and Youth concluded after an investigation that we had fallen to the bottom of children’s rights. The development of children is seriously threatened and their rights are seriously violated.
How did it happen in twenty years that we made absolutely no progress for refugee children and hit rock bottom? This is the result of a policy without a vision of human rights, children’s rights and human values as a basis. As a result, the process is leading and not the people you set it up for. The result is fragmented pieces of actions with linked sites, with no vision of what those entire actions should result in: a child whose development is protected, regardless of the outcome of the process. In this piecemeal procedure, humane treatment to some extent still depends on the goodwill of the people working in the sector. They are working – as the inspection bodies have also concluded – against the odds to provide such a humane environment. But its limits have also been reached. And the system as the causative factor remains unchanged.
If a child rights-based vision guides the organization of your operations, immigration policy will look different. The central question, then, is what the child needs in order to integrate into the country of the future with a perspective. And how do you set up the procedure accordingly.
This means that if the Netherlands is the country of the future, good development and rapid integration into society are essential. So education from day one, safety in child care, availability of parents or caregivers, (mental) health care and leisure options, no relocation. Get out of the shelter as soon as possible.
Read also comment About child care
This means fast action in the IND and the readiness of the municipalities to accept these children (along with their parents) into their community. We know that this benevolence exists. Just look at how welcoming children from Ukraine are.
If the perspective is not in Holland, the same question is central to politics. Very simple: what does the child need to include with the perspective of what country he is going to, or where he is going to return, and how we will perceive this. Just like children residing in the Netherlands, returning children benefit from this happening as quickly as possible. So again quick action and clarity about where the perspective lies.
And, of course, there is enforcement. If the family has to go, it will go. Parents are supported in realizing what is necessary to build a life with their children in the country they are going to. You can work with a checklist in which you check if there is availability and access to safety, housing, education, and social security. A decision based on speed, human dignity and the protection of children’s development offers the best chance of acceptance.
This approach may seem utopian. but that is not all. In fact, it is in line with what is stated in the coalition agreement. This states that the Cabinet will soon consider how the best interests of the child are taken into account in the asylum procedure.
Let’s hope the government delivers on its promise soon. for everyone. Because a system where the people who work there can’t do a good job, in which refugee children and their parents lose years and years of their lives because they have to wait for their lives to start over, is not good for anyone. Kids and their parents can’t wait. Certainly not another twenty years.