Author: Laura van den Brink
The educational right of children under the age of 18 is a fundamental human right. States are obliged to provide education to children residing in their country regardless of their citizenship status (Peirce 2018). Considering that globally only 50% of the world’s child refugee population is being educated, in the Netherlands gaps in the provision of education for children seem minor. Every asylum centre has arrangements with an elementary school nearby and if parents wish to, they can send their children to another school.
Refugee Education in The Netherlands
According to the RVA (the benefit scheme for asylum seekers), educational programmes are also made available for adults at asylum centres (AIDA 2019). However, access to education for adults depends on the stage of their asylum application. In an interview, a 25-year-old woman from Syria stated that “in general only people who have a 90% chance to get residence are allowed to follow some basic Dutch courses when they are in AZC. I didn’t have access to any class, as it was uncertain whether I would get residence or not. Working was not allowed, and learning Dutch wasn’t either”.
Hurdles to Receiving Education
The time that it may take for the government to figure out whether you have a 90% chance to get residence differs substantially per person. This is sometimes due to complications in their case and sometimes due to overloaded courts that are busy handling other people’s cases. As stated by the 25-year-old woman: “It differs how much time it takes. For example, if you got a negative decision the first time and you go to the court for an appeal against it, you may receive the next decision within 2 or 3 months or a year. I’ve seen people stay for 3 years, because they wait for a decision from the court for around a year. If it is too busy in court, it takes a long time.”
Much research suggests that this time spent waiting in asylum centers is experienced as a waste of time, due to the limited access to professional language training and education. Additionally, people report an experience of isolation from the ‘outside world’ (Korac 2003; Ameijde 2016). A woman working as a social supervisor at Vluchtelingenwerk described the lack of social initiatives to engage with the ‘outside world’ as a shortcoming of the system. Vluchtelingenwerk Goeree -Overflakkee stated the following: “We do not assist people in contacting neighbors for example and I see that those people that come to our office have no Dutch contacts at all. We should try to facilitate contacts with Dutch people, as it would be very valuable for them to practice their Dutch and integrate in society, but this does not happen at all. […] The few people that work at Vluchtelingenwerk, wouldn’t find the time even if they wanted to”.
Similarly, the 25-year-old woman from Syria stated that the COA, the Central Agency for Care of Asylum Seekers, that bears responsibility over asylum seekers that are awaiting their decision, merely helps with basic practical matters. “They help based on general procedures, for example if you have insurance problems, or need a dental appointment or you need to register in the municipality, but they don’t help with for example something particular to your situation”.
It is crucial that refugees in The Netherlands and around the world receive the education they need regardless of age. Only then, can the integration process truly succeed.
AIDA (2019). “Access to Education: Netherlands.” Asylum Information Database. At http://www.asylumineurope.org/reports/country/netherlands/content-protection/employment-and-education/access-education.
Arthur Peirce (2018). “Human Rights and The Education of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Greece.” The Medium. At https://medium.com/lighthouse-relief/human-rights-and-the-education-of-refugees-and-asylum-seekers-in-greece-f600a5575730.
Emma van Ameijde (2016). “Syrian Refugees and their experiences with the Dutch Asylum Policy.” Utrecht University. At https://dspace.library.uu.nl/bitstream/handle/1874/338214/Emma%20van%20Ameijde%203686957%20MA%20Thesis%20Conflict%20Studies%20and%20Human%20Rights.pdf?sequence=2&isAllowed=y.
Korac, Maja (2003). “Integration and how we Facilitate it: A Comparative Study of the Settlement Experiences of Refugees in Italy and The Netherlands.” Sociology 37(1): 51-68.