“Towards a structural place for refugee perspectives in policymaking” – English summary

A refugee experience knows many different phases, each of which is fueled by positive and negative meanings. It starts with leaving behind everything that is familiar – your life, your loved ones, your environment – and the need to make a new beginning because of violence. This requires a lot of effort, resilience and creativity. In the first years a lot of positive energy is released, but there are also many obstacles to making a successful start in a new environment. It is therefore crucial that the social structures surrounding refugees are inclusive enough to push them in the right direction.

The experiences of previous generations of refugees are essential for making policies of governments, organizations and social initiatives more inclusive. The structural involvement of refugee perspectives at policy level contributes to more representative and inclusive policies, precisely because the visions, experiences and expertise of people for whom these policies are intended are included. Various initiatives set-up and led by refugees have recently emerged in the Netherlands and Europe, which underline the need for a more active and meaningful contribution of refugees in policy-making. An example is the call in the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) [1] for the global to make voice of refugees and refugee organizations be heard in policy-making on matters that affect them. This call came about partly because of the advocacy of refugee organizations. It also offers an excellent opportunity to provide more space at a national policy level for the voice(s) of “advocates” [2] with a refugee background.

That is why the Dutch Council for Refugees (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland) has asked the Refugee Academy to issue advice on how ‘refugee-led advocacy’ (advocacy led by refugees) can be given further substance and form in the Netherlands. The present advisory report contains a vision of how refugee-led advocacy can be understood in the current policy context and what the challenges and opportunities are. There is currently a lack of clarity about the added value of the experiential knowledge of refugee advocates. In our advisory report, we therefore propose a new interpretation of advocacy. This interpretation distances itself from the old structure of consultation bodies with the accompanying expectation that advocates represent large groups. Rather, we advocate the necessity and the ability of refugee advocates to broaden the perspective of policymakers through individual and “embedded stories” and to think along about how inclusive policy can be shaped.

In this report we clarify the idea, the importance and the added value of refugee-led advocacy and formulate conditions to give it a structural place within policy-making. We hope this will provide a basis for formulating actions at different levels and for different actors (national government, municipality, NGOs, organizations led by refugees).

Refugee-led advocacy

We define Refugee-led advocacy as a form of influencing policy or public opinion by people with a refugee background and who are part of relevant networks of refugees. In this advisory report we will discuss different types of advocates and the roles that go with them (the three levels of refugee-led advocacy).

This advice is based on theoretical and empirical knowledge from previous studies by the Refugee Academy. In addition, we supplemented our insights in various ways and involved refugee advocates in writing this advisory report, including as co-authors of this report. By sharing our knowledge, we have jointly translated it into useful elements. We conducted interviews with five different types of actors:

  1. Refugee advocates who are currently active (focus group with 9 participants)
  2. Refugee advocates from older generations who have been active in this field for decades (2)
  3. Group discussion and interviews with policymakers from three different ministries (SWZ (1), V&J (3) and OCW (2))
  4. Group discussion with members of the advocacy team (Policy team) of the Dutch Council for Refugees (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland) (3)
  5. Email exchanges with senior policy officer of the Dutch Council for Refugees and refugee advocates from older generations about lessons learned from the past

Structure of this advisory report

The proposition that the perspectives and experiences of refugees themselves are important for developing inclusive policy is rarely up for discussion. But in order to arrive at a truly meaningful role for refugee advocates, it is essential to look beyond this statement and consider the implicit assumptions in different contexts.

Therefore, we ask three questions in this advisory report. The first question concerns the actual value and function of the perspectives of refugees. Why are these perspectives necessary? The search for an answer to this leads us to the need to distinguish different types of contributions and thus to the second question: Which types of perspectives are important in which context and how can we further conceptualize and differentiate the role of refugees as advocates? Finally, the third question is about the conditions under which a meaningful contribution from refugees as advocates is possible: What are the conditions for involving and strengthening refugee-led advocacy, so that it can actually make a difference? After answering these questions, we present some recommendations for policymakers and relevant organizations to shape an infrastructure for refugee-led advocacy.

The complete advisory report (in Dutch) is available here.

An English summary is available here.

During the webinar “Inclusief beleid maak je zo”, organized by the Dutch Council for Refugees in East Netherlands (VluchtelingenWerk Oost-Nederland), Prof. Dr. Halleh Ghorashi and Dr. Elena Ponzoni presented the advisory report. You can watch the full webinar (in Dutch) here:

[1] GCR para 106. available online on UNHCR website: https://www.unhcr.org/the-global-compact-on-refugees.html

[2] We use the English term “advocate” in this report. In some occasions, we use English terms throughout the report, because we cannot find a suitable Dutch translation that covers the meaning of these notions. We speak of ‘refugee-led advocacy’ to refer to activities or organizations developed by refugees that are aimed at participation or influencing. The term “refugee advocates” refers to individuals with a refugee background who are active in this field (whether or not related to an organization).