The experience of being a refugee is not insignificant. Leaving behind your life, loved ones, and familiar surroundings due to violence requires a great deal of dedication, resilience, and resourcefulness. In the first years after fleeing, a lot of energy is unleashed, but there are also many obstacles to overcome for a successful fresh start. Therefore, it is crucial that the societal structures surrounding refugees are inclusive enough to provide them with the right push in the right direction. The experiences of previous generations of refugees are essential to make the policies of governments, organizations, and societal initiatives inclusive enough. The structural inclusion of refugee perspectives at the policy level contributes to more representative and inclusive policies, as the visions, experiences, and expertise of those for whom these policies are made are taken into account.
Recently, various initiatives have emerged in the Netherlands and Europe involving refugees that emphasize the necessity of a more active and meaningful contribution of refugees to policy formulation. This includes the call in the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) to globally amplify the voices of refugees and refugee organizations in policy-making on matters concerning refugees. This call was realized in part due to the advocacy of refugee organizations. It presents a prime opportunity to also provide more space at the national level for the voices of advocates with a refugee background in policy and decision-making.
The current international developments also create an opportunity in the Netherlands to take new steps towards including the perspectives of refugees themselves in policy issues. Therefore, VluchtelingenWerk Nederland (Refugee Work Netherlands) has requested the Refugee Academy to provide advice on how ‘refugee-led advocacy’ can be further developed and shaped in the Netherlands. This advice involves a vision of how refugee-led advocacy can be understood within the current policy context and what its challenges and opportunities are. The advice aims to clarify the concept, importance, and added value of refugee-led advocacy, while also formulating conditions to give this form of advocacy a structural place in policy-making. In addition to this general advice, which serves as a basis for formulating actions at various levels and for different stakeholders (national government, municipalities, NGOs, and refugee-led organizations), we are writing a specific recommendation to VluchtelingenWerk Nederland.
Why is the perspective of refugees needed in policy-making?
We view refugee-led advocacy, or simply refugee advocacy, as a form of influencing policy or public opinion by individuals with a refugee background who are part of relevant refugee networks. In this research, we delve into various types of advocates and the roles associated with them (the ‘three levels’ of refugee advocacy).
Since the beginning of the previous decade, there has been growing criticism of the impact of policies on the lives of asylum seekers who had to remain in asylum seeker centers (AZCs) for years without much prospect. A powerful way to demonstrate this impact was through stories of helplessness and loss experienced by asylum seekers, making their pleas and calls for action visible.
While the reception and integration policies have evolved significantly since then, it remains crucial to continue investing in the connection with the lives and experiences of refugees. In 2018, the “2013 Integration Act” was evaluated, which concluded that the current integration policy does not adequately align with the reality and potential of refugees in the Netherlands. In response to this policy, new refugee-led networks and organizations have mobilized. Despite the growing recognition of the value of refugee perspectives and knowledge, there is a lack of necessary insight into how to assess and make meaningful use of this experiential knowledge in decision-making processes. Therefore, this advisory question is particularly opportune.
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Commissioned by VluchtelingenWerk Nederland, we at the Refugee Academy have prepared an advisory report on how ‘refugee-led advocacy’ can be further developed in the Netherlands. The full report titled “Towards a Structural Place for the Perspective and Vision of Refugees in Policy-Making” is available here.
 GCR para 106. Available online on the UNHCR website: https://www.unhcr.org/the-global-compact-on-refugees.html
 In this research, we sometimes use English terms as we couldn’t find suitable translations in Dutch that capture the essence of these notions.
 Evaluation of the 2013 Integration Act: https://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten/rapporten/2018/06/27/evaluatie-van-de-wet-inburgering-2013
 A similar observation is made in a 2015 study by the Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) on the integration of status holders. https://www.wrr.nl/publicaties/policy-briefs/2015/12/16/geen-tijd-verliezen-van-opvang-naar-integratie-van-asielmigranten
 At the international level, the Global Refugee-led Network, a coalition of refugee-led organizations, has been a key actor advocating for meaningful refugee participation since the adoption of the New York Declaration and the Global Compact on Refugees. The first Global Refugee Forum (GRF) held in December 2019 benefited from an unprecedented contribution of over 70 refugees from around the world. The role of refugees in the preparation for (and participation in) the GRF has set an important precedent for all forums in which decisions and policies regarding the lives of refugees are made or discussed.