Several references to a glas of dry white whine were made during the recent debate on migration at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. Outside temperatures soaring to records high for april and people mushrooming the embankments of the old Port of Amsterdam. Still quite a bunch of people preferred to be at the great migration debate , co-organized by Oxfam and ViceVersa.
After two rounds with the usual suspects, including Farah Karimi of Oxfam and Jelte van Wieren from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the usual mud slinging, it was obvious that a real debate would not take place. The only politician that showed up was the always positive Joel Voordewind from the ChristenUnion, celebrating some political achievements in his strive to arrive at a convenient level of ambition with the liberals, increasing the number of legal migrants with one thousand to reduce levels of illegal migrants. Still it could not be avoided that the new policy was widely perceived as a negative frame designed to keep people out rather than having them contribute to Dutch society. This frame was challenged by the audience that witnessed to positive experiences at the local level in Ede and Lunteren, who had their communities ready to receive even higher numbers of refugees that finally never arrived.
It was the Syrian Music that offered the break away from this highly sophisiticated political game that is merely about numbers (making a difference for many individual by the way) to a more principled discussion initiated by Darawsha Adham, who once fled as a Palestinian refugee from Nazareth and ended up as a citizen of Italy in the City of Palermo. There as a Chair of the Board of Culture, he witnessed the welcoming of a boat of refugees arriving at the port of Palermo by the Mayor of the city, sending a political message to his population. That was just one day after which another city refused to welcome a boat into their port. According to Mr. Adham it was civil society in the end making the difference, churches, rotary clubs, etc. Exchange of cultural festivals, attending each other's religious celebrations, was key to successful integration. Make refugees meet the people of the city and make the city know what the Muslims and Bhuddist celebrations look like. We made Bangladeshi and Pakistani meet. We organized exchanges between Tamil and Sri Lankees. It is not money that creates integration, it is culture.
The optimistic voice of this Nazarener was followed up by Leo Lucassen, Professor of Global Labour and MIgration History. The latter turned the numbers into relative numbers, showing how small the actual number of migrants actually is and that the numbers have been relative steady. He underlined the positive attitude that exists at the local level with a much more nuanced debate (echoing the example from Ede from before the break) which is largely ignored and needs to receive a renewed focus. His plea was supported by Albertha Opoku, a freelance diaspora journalist. However, Leo also pointed to the practice of paying corrupt regimes for containing migrants causing people to die in the desert rather than drowning in the Mediterranean.
Josh Maiyo, assistant lecturer International Development at the VU University in Amsterdam, pointed to a number of inconsistencies in the new Dutch policy. "If you make it the responsibility of migrants to integrate while making it very difficult to be part of society, this is an inconsistency. Secondly, closing first irregular migration in order to open up for legal migration does not make sense. Thirdly, nobody tells us how pathways for regular migration are actually achieved. Labour shortage does not match the wish to increase the rate of return." And so on. Josh Maiyo suggested to invest in work permits, as examplified by East-African countries who have opened their borders to free movement of people goods and services (a rather liberal viewpoint!). Admitting to some of these inconsistencies, Jelte van Wieren explained that we are dealing with some remnants from the past, and that these inconsistencies were a result of the various Ministries involved, thereby undermining the much praised comprehensiveness of the policy document.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
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Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.