Moving Cities
Inspiring Approaches

AmsterdamAmsterdam’s support for non-documented migrants – a fresh start in adversity

What is inspiring?

Since 2012, Amsterdam has provided support measures for undocumented migrants in the form of “Bed, Bath and Bread” shelters. Pragmatic and humanitarian considerations underpin this emergency social assistance. But it also came as a response to the visible activism of undocumented migrants in the city, as part of the “We Are Here” movement. “We Are Here” is a collective of undocumented migrants established in 2012 to give visibility to and fight for the rights of undocumented migrants in the city. The Amsterdammer squatters’ movement, NGOs, churches and activists have supported groups such as the “We Are Here” group.


How does it operate?

In 2018, Amsterdam’s newly installed left-wing coalition government announced plans to create 24-hour shelter places for 500 undocumented migrants as part of its broader Undocumented Migrant Programme. Migrants can stay in these shelters for up to 18 months and work with the help of a professional advisor on a long-term perspective. This sustainable perspective may include obtaining legal residence, migrating on to another country, or returning to the country of origin. Non-documented migrants are protected from detention during their stay in these shelters.

What is the outcome?

In terms of numbers, Amsterdam has committed to supporting the largest number of undocumented migrants (500) of any Dutch city. This is also partly why the municipality has set a maximum period (18 months), with the idea that over time more undocumented persons can receive support. It is a strategic but contested decision, because out of the five pilot municipalities, only Amsterdam and Rotterdam (6 months) have set a maximum term. Activists and NGOs have noted that in 2020 it often took a long time for a case manager to be appointed and tailored support to be provided to LVV residents, in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and have therefore expressed their concern with this 18-month limit.

Who initiated the project? How?

Since 2018, Amsterdam’s political officials and policymakers have created a political environment that is more open to these struggles and claims, including to those of more recent initiatives (‘Amsterdam City Rights’, ‘Here to Support’), but the city also remains embedded in restrictive national citizenship regimes. The City of Amsterdam has therefore received praise and criticism for the way it has positioned itself vis-à-vis the increasingly restrictive national government and the citizenship struggles of undocumented migrant groups. An exemplary feature of the Amsterdam Approach scheme to “National Immigration Facilities” (LVV) is the direct involvement of 60 undocumented refugees and over 25 NGO and activists’ groups, through working sessions at the start of Amsterdam’s Undocumented Migrant Programme. The municipality subsequently adopted a facilitative, rather than a coordinating role, and enabled a coalition of NGOs and activist groups to take charge of implementing the LVV shelter. In 2020, “Here to Support”, one of the civil society organisations that supports undocumented Amsterdammers, proposed an Undocumented People Advisory Board to continue the direct involvement of undocumented people in implementing the LVV project.

What is new in 2023?

Here to Support' opened the 'Youth Living Room' in 2020 to provide a meeting place for young undocumented Eritrean migrants. In addition to the space, they also offered social and legal counselling to the young people. This method was called 'Youth to Support'. The project is now being extended to other groups and the method 'Casemanagement+' is being developed to offer more comprehensive counselling by case managers. After two years of private funding, the municipality of Amsterdam has recognised the method and included it in the 'LVV' programme.

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