Stakeholder engagement: from dissemination to co-creation of knowledge

Barbara Oomen

Once upon a time, not so long ago, stakeholder engagement by scholars involved waiting until the end of a project, writing up an easy-to-read flyer, pouring out an op-ed in the paper and possibly organizing a dissemination workshop. Our stakeholder meeting at the 2018 Fundamental Rights Forum showed how times have changed. Over thirty activists, policy-makers, politicians have reflected upon our first insights, comparing them against their experiences, critically adding to them and thus crucially strengthening our research.

On the one hand, this comes with our research topic. The role of human rights in how cities receive and integrate refugees is simply too urgent, too topical, with too much happening to wait five years to share results. We want to make a difference in, and to local authorities as they struggle with these issues on a daily basis. But there is a second reason for our early and ongoing outreach to those with a stake in our findings. We, as researchers, have to learn from true dialogue with those ‘out there in the arena’ – migrants, mayors, municipal workers.

Of course, it is our job to see the big picture. To read through the piles of existing literature on the ‘local turn’ in migration management, the localization of human rights and its relevance to refugee reception and integration. To question existing and draw up new theories, formulate hypotheses, painstakingly gather data to only then draw out conclusions. In all these phases, however, there is so much to learn from those in the heat of things. Not as respondents, but as fellow researchers. People who also ponder upon why cities offer refuge, or refuse to do so, and what the role of human rights can be.

This is the reason why we have our much-appreciated stakeholder board with representatives of the human rights institutes, refugees, mayors, the EU research board and Fundamental Rights Agency to discuss findings every year. It was Friso Roscam Abbing, of the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, who proposed the wonderful idea of meeting at the Fundamental Rights Forum, appropriately themed “Connect, Reflect, Act”.

Here, the question is not so much what insights we shared (on why local authorities differ, what discourses prevail pertaining to refugees, what role there is for networks). Rather, it is what insights we gained. Let’s give three. First, we witness a very high degree of interest in the role of local authorities in furthering human rights. Not only was the turn-out at our session relatively high, this applied to all the other sessions on local action for fundamental rights grouped under the hashtag #sharedneighbourhoods. Second, there is the role of narratives. All stakeholders actively search for a story to tell on human rights that can cross political divides and that serves as an umbrella for local inclusion. Finally, there is the importance of sharing stories, best practices and permanently reflecting on what works and why, with the inclusion of the people that the policies are aimed to help. Participatory and inclusive policy-making, including the voice of refugees, migrants and other disadvantaged groups has been a recurring theme among recommendations from our workshop participants. Here, we will continue to play a role. Not only for, but also with our stakeholders. Or should it be stakescholars?



A confident Dutch coalition - save for migration policy


Barbara Oomen & Sara Miellet


On Tuesday the 10 of October, after 208 days of negotiation, the new Dutch government presented its policy agreement for the coming four years: “Confidence in the Future”. If anything is apparent in reading the 70-page document, it is that this confidence hardly applies to migrants in general, and asylum seekers in particular. Neither, clearly, is there much confidence between the four parties in the new governmental coalition: they dedicate 10 % of all text to setting out the agreements in the field of migration. In contrast, for instance, there is only half a page dedicated to culture.

Before turning to these measures, let’s recapitulate what happened since the last Dutch elections in March. These left a highly fragmented political landscape, with the Liberal Democrats (VVD) obtaining 21 % of the votes, Wilders’ PVV 13 %, the Christian Democrats (CDA) and the Democrats 66 (D66) both 12 %, the Green Left and the Socialists SP each 9 % and the Social Democrats (PvdA) down from 25 % to 6 %. The initial round of negotiations, with the VVD, CDA, D66 and the Green Left already showed the degree to which migration has become one of the main markers of political difference. Whilst parties had already agreed on a type of ‘Turkey-deal’  with North-African countries, the Green Left’s insistence that refugees should always retain the right to claim asylum in Europe lead to an implosion of the negotiations.

It took the next set of actors - VVD, CDA, D66 and the Christian Union (3 % of the votes) - nearly six months to come to the agreement presented earlier this week. In it, the fault lines between premier Rutte’s VVD and the Christian Democrats (that both campaigned with an anti-migration agenda) and D66 and the Christian Union (whose agenda could be characterised as more internationalist and humanitarian) are still clearly visible. Out of the wide range of issues relating to migration, asylum and integration policy presented under the heading of an ‘effective and dignified migration policy’, the key points could be summarized as follows:

  • Extraterritorialization of policies: One of the key points of departure is that refugees have the right to asylum, but not necessarily in the Netherlands. The agreement emphasizes the importance of better reception in safe third countries outside of the EU (euphemistically called the ‘region’ in Dutch). The cabinet also aims to realize reception facilities for minors in the country of origin enabling children to grow up there until they can return (remarking that this does not apply to unsafe countries like Syria). In addition, the Repatriation and Departure service will receive additional funding to strengthen collaboration with partner organizations working in the field of returns in third countries. Whereas the Green Left wanted the Netherlands to take in an additional 2500 to 25000 refugees, the new partners in government resolve to increase the UNHCR relocation quotum from 500 to 750.
  • Separation on the basis of probability of asylum: Early stage screening of asylum-seekers on the basis of chance of asylum approval and different standards of reception facilities for those expected to receive asylum to facilitate integration at an earlier stage. Here the German inspiration is clear, as is the case with the plans to ‘couple’ people with specific skills to those municipalities where those skills are needed.  
  • An effective return policy:  A great deal of text concerns returns. The cabinet seeks to amend and ‘intensify’ European legislation, for instance concerning administrative detention, to realize such policies. The Repatriation and Departure service will get extra capacity. People denied the right to stay have to cooperate with their own expulsion. Those who do not do this can be put in a ‘location under supervision’ where they will have to cooperate with their expulsion as well. If they refuse they will receive no more shelter and support.  
  • A limitation of rights: The rights of people who are permitted to stay will be limited in a number of ways. One instance is the way in which municipalities will receive the social benefits (for housing, healthcare and general expenses) and support ‘newcomers’ in kind for the first two years. Another concerns limiting the duration of residence permits from five to three years. After this period of three years the residence permit can be extended for two years if a person is still eligible for formal status.    
  • More responsibility for municipalities: There is a considerable empowerment of municipalities once asylum applications are considered promising. Here, the applicants can start language lessons immediately and start integrating in the municipalities where they will be based. Municipalities may experiment with allowing people to work before receiving a formal status. Additionally, one of the main controversies in the previous VVD-PvdA government, the ‘Bed-Bath-Bread’ shelter for undocumented migrants at the local level clearly remains unresolved - the new government will close an agreement with the Dutch Association of Municipalities on this matter. The responsibility of municipalities to support the new returns policy, however, is also emphasized a number of times.

Parts of the agreement were characterized as a ‘bitter pill’ by coalition partner Christian Union and civil society, like the lack of a ‘Children's’ Amnesty’ for undocumented migrant children who had been in the Netherlands for a long time.  The legality and the actual impact of many of the other measures proposed are still unclear. In this light the first sentence of the coalition agreement ‘Confidence in the Future’ is telling. It states how ‘In the Netherlands individual freedoms and a close collective go hand in hand. Everyone can have the ambition to jump over the highest fence, in the knowledge that there is a safety net to catch them if needed’. All the is clear here is that the degree to which truly everyone in the Netherlands can be confident that this sentence also applies to their future is far from certain.