Local governments are key points of contact for refugees and migrants — especially when they are faced with deportation. For the launch of The Hague Process report on Migrant and Refugee Integration in Cities, 21 May 2014, this blog looks at a new campaign for a fairer children’s amnesty.
Discontent is stirring once again in the Netherlands because of the kinderpardon, or children’s amnesty, scheme. The long-term residency scheme for children was lauded in 2012 as a shining example of collaboration in the Dutch coalition government, then and still made up of the Labour Party (PvdA) and the conservative-liberal People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
The scheme entitles children and their parents who have unsuccessfully gone through the asylum procedure, and who have resided in the Netherlands for a long time, to be granted a residence permit. To qualify for this residence permit, rejected asylum seekers must meet a series of conditions: they must have lived in the Netherlands and claimed asylum for at least five years before their 18th birthday. Additionally, they should not have been older than 21 at the time of the agreement (29 October 2012) and should not have left the central government’s supervision for more than three months.
Recently, several mayors and NGOs throughout the Netherlands have launched a national campaign calling for a fairer application of the kinderpardon. They want a broader and more lenient interpretation of the law to allow every child who has lived in the Netherlands for longer than five years to remain in the country. A petition was launched on 5 May 2014, the day the Netherlands celebrates the end of the Second World War.
More than three quarters of all Dutch mayors (301 out of 403 as of Friday 16 May) are asking that more children be eligible for the kinderpardon scheme and/or that State Secretary for Security and Justice Fred Teeven reconsider the most poignant cases of children who fall just outside of the admission criteria. Among those who signed up are PvdA mayors Eberhard van der Laan (Amsterdam), Ahmed Aboutaleb (Rotterdam) and Rob Gijzel (Eindhoven), as well as VVD mayors Onno Hoes (Maastricht) and Jan van Zanen (Utrecht).
Teeven announced in April 2014 that 675 children and 775 of their relatives had so far received a residence permit under the long-term resident children scheme. In total, 3,280 applications were submitted and more than half were rejected. The main reasons for rejection were the length of residency in the Netherlands and the fact that an asylum claim had never been filed. A group of 190 applicants was rejected solely because they were older than 21 on 29 October 2012. More controversially, 300 applications were dismissed due to the government’s interpretation of the scheme.
Children under municipal supervision who did not live in refugee centres operated by the national government were considered as no longer being under “government” supervision since, as failed asylum seekers, they no longer had the right to state accommodation. Yet, most children have been under supervision from local municipal authorities as they were attending school or making use of social services.
The Dutch Children’s Ombudsman, Marc Dullaert, called this interpretation “downright idiotic”.
He questioned why municipalities were considered decentralized governmental entities when transferring health and care related services, but not when it came to the kinderpardon scheme: “These children were enrolled in schools, joined sports clubs and were in contact with a social worker. They were therefore well within sight of the government.” In a move to shame the government’s policy, the ombudsman has indicated that he will publicly reveal dozens of cases of children who were prejudiced by the law.
Disregarding the growing public support, Teeven has publicly stated that the current legislation related to the kinderpardon scheme will not be revised. He did, however, indicate that he will “implement the scheme more generously” and is therefore “willing to gather new information”. Teeven has asked the mayors to provide him with documentation of individual cases of children whom they believe should fall under the kinderpardon scheme and deserve reconsideration.
In the lead up to the launch of The Hague Process on Refugees and Migration’s commissioned report on Migrant and Refugee Integration in Cities on 21 May 2014, which was implemented by UNU-MERIT and its School of Governance, this example highlights a key way in which local governments represent an important point of contact for refugees and migrants. After all it is in cities that most migrants make a living.