What is unique about Tilburg?
Regional solidarity and quick policy innovations: What sets Tilburg apart from other progressive Dutch municipalities is its focus on regional solidarity and partnership – allowing it to pool resources and lobby at the national level more effectively. A central element of its migration policies is the requirement of an equal and mutual commitment and sense of obligation from both the administration and the new arrivals. Its programmes aim to create a stable environment and to encourage active cooperation with refugees.
What is the focus of the local migration policies?
Pragmatism and persistence pay off: Tilburg’s story is one of pragmatism and persistence, rather than explicit municipal disobedience. The city’s approach to migration governance is characterised by its consistent use of quiet diplomacy, coordination between Dutch city networks, and close collaboration with local and regional partners to amplify its influence at the national level and to lobby for changes in Dutch national migration policy.
What are the greatest achievements so far?
Above-average labour market participation of refugees: Tilburg improved local inclusion measures with an experimental pilot programme ‘Language, Orientation and Participation’ (TOP). As a result, both refugee labour market participation and educational enrolment in Tilburg is higher than the national average. The national Ministry has since adopted several of these measures and incorporated them into the New Dutch Integration Bill (which was implemented in 2022).
Political activities and advocacy beyond the city level
Tilburg’s public officials are involved in several international networks dealing with refuge and migration. Together with civil society groups, they have recently stepped up their national lobbying as well, banding together with Amsterdam on housing availability, as well as with a coalition of several Dutch cities declaring their willingness to provide refuge to unaccompanied minors.
Member of the following networks
Download the full city report
The city report contains all the information about the city’s migration policies, its approaches and political context. Report from 2021, updated in 2023.
Political context of Netherlands
Migration policy in the Netherlands
Dutch asylum and integration policies on refugees are part of a complex multi-level governance setup on migration. Immigration policies on asylum seekers and refugees are centralised. Integration policies were first decentralised (Integration Act 2007), then centralised (Integration Act 2013), only to be decentralised again starting in 2022.
The restrictive turn in Dutch asylum and migration governance
In 2019, asylum seekers represented almost 6% of total immigration towards the Netherlands. Despite this relatively small number, the plight and rights of refugees and irregular migrants have been increasingly contested by both the national and local authorities in the Netherlands, establishing a “fault line” between political parties nationally. Immigration, asylum and integration are at the heart of a shift from multiculturalist policies to a more restrictive national immigration and integration policy, as a result of the rise of far-right populism. This shift is accompanied by an increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric from far and centre-right politicians.
Beyond Dutch borders, this rhetoric is often associated with the far-right Freedom Party (PVV) of Geert Wilders. However, the centrist People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) has also increasingly adopted anti-immigration rhetoric. The party’s election campaigns refer, for instance, to its ambitions to suspend the right to asylum and to reject obligations foreseen by the “outdated” Refugee Convention. Opposition parties, refugees and human rights organisations stress that this shift to the right predates the turn of the century and is not just a recent development. Apart from stricter legislation, changes include the limitation of free legal assistance to asylum seekers, the linking of social benefit claims and services to a valid residency status, and the increasing use of immigration detention.
Asylum policies in the Netherlands: multi-level governance in trouble
Although asylum applications have decreased, refugees in Dutch reception centres face protracted periods of uncertainty because of a shortage of reception spots for asylum seekers. This is a governance crisis – of the Netherlands' own making – that has emerged due to staff shortages in the immigration services as well as an increasingly overstretched housing market. These long waiting periods hamper refugees’ integration, forcing them to stay longer under restrictive regimes in large-scale reception facilities.
“Civic integration” and inclusionary measures for recognised refugees
The Netherlands was one of the first countries to introduce civic integration policies in 1996. They have been fiercely debated since then. These policies have been overhauled several times, leading to new or amended Integration Acts in 2007, 2013 and 2020. Scholars describe Dutch civic integration policies as particularly restrictive because refugees are themselves responsible for their “civic integration” (language and orientation courses), which are compulsory and must be completed within three years.
Municipal involvement in integration – an uphill battle?
The Integration Bill of 2013, which centralised civic integration, left municipalities with limited options to support recognised refugees early on. Refugees are eligible for an interest-bearing loan from the state to cover the expenses of civic integration courses, which is remitted if they obtain their civic integration diploma in time. They must find language instructors on the market of certified providers, and many of them have been victims of fraudulent schools. The transition between life in reception centres, where access to work is restricted, and everything is decided for you, to a life, after status recognition, where you are on your own and left to the mercy of the market, is extreme. Municipal actors have voiced their concerns about the shortcomings and contradictions of Dutch civic integration policies and the lack of a municipal mandate. After years of municipal lobbying and various critical reports by experts, the Dutch government has announced it will review national asylum policy. Through a consultative process, the Ministry has developed and drafted a new Dutch Integration Act that will decentralise civic integration and hand over the reins to municipalities. The implementation of the new Integration Act has been postponed several times, but it is now scheduled for 1st January 2022.
Support for irregular migrants – Bed, Bath, Bread and beyond?
Research in the Netherlands shows that some local authorities “soften” the blow of or defy national policies that affect irregular migrantsvand failed asylum seekers. In 2018, after years of standoffs between Dutch cities and the central government, the Ministry of Justice and Security reached an agreement with the Dutch Association of Municipalities on the development of national immigration facilities (LVVs). The Ministry, the authorities responsible for immigration and repatriations, the VNG and the municipalities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Eindhoven and Groningen are working together on developing LVVs. The agreement signalled a turning point in relations between cities and the central government on the topic of support for irregular migrants. That said, reports show that pilot municipalities and the central government continue to differ in their outlook and expectations regarding the results of the pilot scheme. New tensions and conflicts are thus likely to occur in the future.
Tilburg’s “Language, Orientation and Participation” (TOP) programme
Welcoming and social inclusion
Counselling and guidance
Regional solidarity in the “Heart of Brabant” – pragmatism and dispersal
Advocacy & Networking
The Regional Refugee Advisory Council – “Nothing About Us Without Us”