Amsterdam City Rights Partnership of Amsterdam citizens with and without papers

At the request of the Dutch government, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been facilitating the voluntary return of migrants to their country of origin since 1992. Over the years, more than 60,000 migrants in the Netherlands have returned to more than 100 different countries with the help of IOM. This cannot be achieved without intensive cooperation with government agencies, embassies, municipalities, NGOs, youth protection, healthcare institutions, migrant organizations and key figures. This new series of stories is about this collaboration. Or rather: about the people and organizations IOM works together with. What is their role? How do they relate to the topic of return? What drives them? What challenges do they face? In short, this series will get you more acquainted with IOM’s network in the Netherlands in the context of voluntary return.

In this article: An interview with Annette Kouwenhoven from Amsterdam City Rights.

"Without migration I would not have been born."
Annette Kouwenhoven

In the autumn of 2019, Alari (fictitious name) from Ethiopia returned to his country of origin after four years in the Netherlands. In addition to the support he received from IOM, the NGO Amsterdam City Rights was closely involved in his case. They organized crowdfunding to give him extra support for his return and reintegration plan. This consisted of the sale of gemstones and minerals on the one hand, and the start-up of a charity organization aimed at young people on the other.

How did Amsterdam City Rights come about?

"After working for the Worldhouse of the Protestant Diaconate for quite a while, I realized I wanted to be involved differently. I wanted to make myself heard in the migration debate and focus on the rights of undocumented migrants more. This is what I started doing, for example through lobbying in the municipality and organizing meetings with local politicians. At the same time, a 'basic rights' movement for undocumented migrants began in 2017, which included the provision of relevant information. At that time, the idea arose among a number of those involved, including undocumented persons themselves, to join forces. This way, the voice of the undocumented migrant could be better heard."

What is your background?

"I am an artist with a focus on social design. That is a discipline in which you are searching for new types of solutions for social issues."

How do you see your role in this field?

"We are an active group of people with and without papers. As a citizen of Amsterdam with papers, I am in close contact with undocumented citizens. They know exactly where lobbying and help is needed. I can then help with informing the decision makers and advocate for their case. Together we form a network in which everyone has a specialization. In that sense we are all equal. I do not see myself as a social worker. But if needed, I can link migrants to providers of specific support or services. For migrants who are considering return for instance, but also for those who have achieved a status and need some extra guidance during their integration in the Netherlands."

"It often comes down to a lack of information. We try to fill up that gap as much as we can."

What kind of support do you provide?

"It often comes down to a lack of information. We try to fill up that gap as much as we can. This week for example, together with FairWork, we will inform a group of migrants that they have certain rights despite their irregular jobs. The same applies to access to healthcare. This kind of information is still urgently needed. We try to pass this on mainly through key figures within the various groups. They are an important part of our team. Public events and facilitating social activities in the 'Landelijke Vreemdelingen Voorziening (LVV)' are also part of our work. We help with financing through the participation fund of the municipality, but undocumented migrants can come up with initiatives how to use it. This varies from a bingo evening to exhibitions and hip-hop workshops. This brings people together which creates all kinds of possibilities. They can for example organize crowdfunding activities for themselves. You see there is a lot of entrepreneurship and motivation to do things."

"When I look at Filipino women, for example, I think: my mum was like them."

Where did your interest in migration originate from?

"Without migration I would not have been born. My mother went to America as a labour migrant in the 1950s to earn money for the family. On her way she met my father in London. When I look at Filipino women, I think: my mum was like them. Migration is very familiar to me. But it is not something I want for myself. I have traveled a lot and lived in different places, but I prefer to be involved with the subject here from my home in the Netherlands."

"Each time we can see whether we can do something extra. If so, we should keep it simple and clear."

What is the added value of the collaboration between Amsterdam City Rights and IOM?

"A good example is Alari’s return. In addition to IOM’s specialism as an international organization facilitating return at a global level, we were able to provide some extra means through crowdfunding, on top of accommodation we provided prior to departure. If someone is seriously working on a plan we sometimes initiate such an activity. Given Alari's plans, the extra support we were able to provide was a welcome addition to IOM’s standard return and reintegration package. We understand that this package is the same for everyone and bound by rules, however return requires a tailor-made approach. We can provide this more easily through our network of private donors. This can for instance be a specific job related course prior to departure, but also the provision of a suitcase or some extra clothes. It does not always have to be a major activity. Depending on the needs, we can see if we can do something extra. And if so, we should keep it simple and clear by working on the case with a limited number of organizations. It appears we have a good match.”

A few months after his return, Alari succeeded in starting up an organization that focuses on youth and the elderly. Young people with a business plan can be supported with knowledge and a small starting capital. Another project provides for the temporary shelter of homeless children and the elderly. Together with their relatives, a more permanent solution will be sought from there.

For more stories about IOM’s work and the migrants we support with voluntary return, click here

Created By
Olivier Sprée


Photography: Barbara Salewski-Ratering