Policies to regulate migration have been evolving since the 1990s. Governments have designed measures aimed at protecting the labour market and social provisions and expelling unwanted migrants. But these measures can never be fully effective as they fail to influence underlying forces that drive international migration. Throughout the time I have been doing research in the field of illegal immigration, attempts have been made to make the expulsion policy more effective. But the share of effective expulsions by the Dutch government has remained relatively stable at around 50 percent. The other migrants somehow disappear from the radar. A minority of them eventually seek help at the local level.
After the 2007 amnesty measure regarding 28,000 rejected former asylum-seekers, the national government announced that local support for migrants without residence rights had to stop. Maximum efforts were to be put into excluding and expelling those to whom the amnesty measure did not apply. Municipalities agreed to stop providing assistance to rejected asylum-seekers and other irregular immigrants by 2009. They would no longer directly nor indirectly cooperate with sheltering these migrants. Existing emergency shelters had to close.
Yet, after more than five years of strong exclusionary rhetoric and explicit attempts to stop local actors in supporting irregular immigrants, the national government still seems to act like a paper tiger in this respect. (Together with Harmen Bouter I will publish an article later this year in which we present recent research findings in the Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies). In fact this is not so surprising. Principles of national sovereignty, including the right to control borders and to limit certain social rights, and the principle of respecting human rights are difficult to reconcile. Restrictive policies for irregular immigrants have increased their social exclusion, making it more difficult for them to access the labour market and housing and social services. A side effect of this is that there are now categories of migrants who live in highly marginal situations. And some of them are still supported locally, often with indirect support from local authorities. Why is this occurring? Because local authorities have a duty to care. And because they feel that not sheltering these migrants would cause all kinds of problems, including public order, health and security problems.
Recently, civil society and municipalities were offered a helping hand from the supranational level. In response to a complaint by the Association of Protestant Churches, the European Committee on Social Rights called for the Dutch national government in 2014 to implement a coordinated approach at national and municipal levels to ensure that the basic needs (shelter, clothes and food) of migrants who seek help are met. In 2015, a court decision brought the government under increasing pressure to provide shelter (‘bed, bath and bread’ arrangements) to former asylum seekers who are evicted from refugee centres after having exhausted all legal remedies. In the meantime, the State Secretary has now arranged to temporarily finance shelter for these migrants under certain conditions. But it is still unclear how this will affect migration policy.
Crimmigration, the melting of criminal law and migration policy, is often criticised. Yet, in this case it might make sense to consider both types of policy in a concerted way. Together with colleagues from Erasmus University, we discovered some years ago that immigrants who are excluded from all forms of support may turn to criminal activities. We estimated that between 1997 and 2003, the intensification of the restrictive migration control policy has produced a minimum of three thousand additional crime suspects because of the effects of marginalisation. The rise in crime among irregular immigrants: the marginalization thesis in question.) This is one of the reasons why NGOs and municipalities continue to offer support. The debate is not only about bed, bath and bread, but also about security, livability and public order. This truth is easier to accept in the local arena than at the level where policy is drafted.