Learning crossroads for refugee inclusion

Refugee Academy, Institute of Societal Resilience, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The Steppingstones4refugees platform is related to the Learning Crossroads project which maps civil society initiatives that aim to contribute to the societal inclusion of refugees in the Netherlands. This project zooms in on the narrative trajectories of some civil society initiatives that have emerged in the last four years in the Netherlands.

Supported by Kansfonds

The Learning Crossroads project investigates citizens’ initiatives that aim to promote the social participation and inclusion of refugees. In light of the influx of refugees that arrived in the Netherlands since 2015, several community initiatives and organizations with the aim to contribute to the reception and integration of refugees have emerged. This project has the objective to reflect on the community initiatives that have been founded. Where are we after four years? What are the achievements of these initiatives? What are some important lessons we should learn from each other? And how can we collectively learn from and with each other? Last but not least, how can we retain the positive energy of these community initiatives and how can we convert this energy into sustainable structures that contribute to the societal inclusion of refugees?

During this project we will bring community initiatives together in a multi-year learning trajectory. Through participatory research and a series of interactive meetings, this project aims to contribute to making community initiatives and organizations more sustainable. The Refugee Academy is doing this by offering a platform where initiatives can learn from each other, where they are inspired by scientific insights and where their perspective is broadened by the perspective of experienced experts who have a refugee background themselves. The co-creation of academic, professional and local knowledge is central in this learning trajectory. The learning trajectory gives community initiatives room to collectively learn from each other, exchange experiences, investigate dilemmas and learn from scientific insights. In addition, the goal of this project is to combine the experiences and knowledge of several small-scale initiatives so that they may become more capable to have challenging discussions with municipalities and other established social partners.

Several reports indicate that current groups of refugees in the Netherlands – in comparison to the rest of the Dutch population – have more health problems, deal with passivity and have a higher unemployment rate [1] [2] [3]In recent years, the current Dutch civic integration legislation has increasingly focused on the importance of active participation and a ‘work-first’ approach. Recent research shows that, despite good intentions, policies and projects aimed at promoting the social participation of refugees do not always lead to good results. For example, the results of research projects carried out by the Refugee Academy show that the self-determination and active participation of refugees can also be undermined by the self-evident effect of integration policies with a deficit-component. These policies do not give room to the voice and resilience of refugees. In contrast, these policies only focus on the shortcomings of refugees[4]. In order to make community initiatives for refugees more sustainable, it is essential to this project, to reflect on this policy context. In addition, it is important to highlight the narratives and experiences of the initiators, volunteers as well as participants that are active in these community initiatives.

Several initiatives in the Refugee Academy network have indicated that they are interested in more reflection on their activities and collaborations with other organizations to make their projects more inclusive and sustainable. During this project, we will make an inventory of all community initiatives that are active in the domain of entrepreneurship, labor market and societal inclusion. By following these initiatives, we aim to get more insight into the power relations and dilemmas that initiatives have to deal with on a daily basis. Together we want to investigate how they can positively influence the Dutch system of reception and integration and strengthen the resilience of refugees in Dutch society. This is necessary to help refugees integrate fully in Dutch society, but also to learn to understand what is needed to deescalate negative sentiments towards refugees, while at the same time unorthodox connections can be made that will benefit society as a whole.


1 CBS (2018). Uit de startblokken. Cohortstudie naar recente asielmigratie. Den Haag: CBS. Geraadpleegd op https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/publicatie/2018/16/uit-de-startblokken, 31 juli 2018.

2 Dagevos, J., & Odé, A. (2016). Gemeenten volop aan de slag met integratie statushouders. Socialisme & Democratie, 73(4), 12-19.

3 Gezondheidsraad (2016). Briefadvies geestelijke gezondheid van vluchtelingen. Geraadpleegd op https://www.gezondheidsraad.nl/sites/default/files/201601201601briefadvies_geestelijke_gezondheid_van_vluchtelingen.pdf, 31 juli 2018.

4 Ghorashi, H., & Ponzoni, E. (2014). Reviving agency: Taking time and making space for rethinking diversity and inclusion. European Journal of Social Work, 17(2), 161-174.