Country report on social relations, individual attitudes and migrant integration experiences – the Netherlands

This report looks at post-2014 migrants’ reciprocal attitudes, social relations, and integration experiences in four small and medium-sized towns and rural areas in the Netherlands. Primarily based on interviews, focus group discussions and participant observation conducted in the four selected municipalities, the report explores which factors facilitate or hinder positive encounters and shape attitudes, interactions and lived experiences of inclusion and exclusion in specific local contexts.

Factors facilitating positive experiences of settlement and integration of post-2014 newcomers include a larger size of the locality, a higher level of population diversity and a more central location and connectivity of a locality. Besides the spatial dimension, governmental approaches that allow learning the language first and/or consider a person’s educational/professional background with regards to future employment as well as permanent and accessible local support structures contribute to a positive integration experience. Here, neighbourhood houses and other non-public organizations play a particularly important role by providing opportunities for encounters with long-term residents, thereby facilitating interaction and exchange. Furthermore, a positive attitude towards newcomers among residents, political leadership, and high prioritization of integration on the local political agenda influence people’s integration processes positively.

Factors that lead to more negative experiences of settlement and integration for post-2014 migrants include the smaller size of a locality, a largely homogeneous population, and a peripheral location of localities. With regards to governance-related factors, migrants experienced the national dispersal mechanism as particularly negative because it implied for many to lose valuable time in reception centers while waiting for the completion of their lengthy asylum procedure. Moreover, difficulties of finding a job corresponding to migrants’ educational and professional background as well as (local) governmental pressure of taking low-paid jobs or unpaid volunteering/internship positions often resulted in frustration, perceived lack of recognition and experiences of exclusion. Other factors leading to a more negative experience include irregular and fragile local support structures and absence of spaces that provide opportunities for encounters with local residents. We further find that awareness of negative discourses and images surrounding migrants/refugees, a negative attitude towards newcomers among residents, lack of political leadership, and/or limited attention for integration on the local political agenda influence people’s integration processes negatively.

Some of the key similarities that we found across localities are insecurities regarding communicating and interacting with Dutch residents – due to missing language skills and perceived cultural differences – as well as the ease and support effect of having interactions with people from one’s own community. Another factor that was mentioned across localities in similar ways was the role of discourses and images about migration and (Muslim) migrants/refugees and experiences of encounter where newcomers either experienced kindness/openness or hostility/stereotypes towards them.

We also found some differences between localities, especially regarding welcoming/positive attitudes towards migrants. Our respondents linked such attitudes to the size of a locality, its degree of homogeneity or diversification, and the organizational landscape in a locality.

Authors: Elina Jonitz, Maria Schiller and Peter Scholten
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