TilburgThe Regional Refugee Advisory Council – “Nothing About Us Without Us”
What is inspiring?
Policy advisors in Tilburg stress that its migration politics is characterised by a bottom-up “learning by doing approach”. The perspectives of refugees in Tilburg are essential to the process of fine-tuning the municipality’s existing and future projects. The Regional Refugee Advisory Council consists of 12 members and meets monthly. It is modelled on the guidelines of the European Migrant Advisory board. Experts from the network of Dutch cities have recognised the Council as a best practice example of participatory bottom-up policymaking.
How does it operate?
The city commissioned the council to draft a report on its policies for newcomers with refugee status. Each member focused on a specific theme as a way of investigating refugees’ experiences with different aspects of Tilburg’s migration policies. Compared to Tilburg’s first attempt, this Regional Refugee Advisory Council is less heterogeneous, but more structured. Most of the members speak English and/or Dutch and many have a higher education background. The council is coordinated by a chair who also has personal experience of migration and works for the municipality. According to Tilburg’s officials, this setup and the chair’s commitment and expertise contributed to the Advisory Council’s success.
What is the outcome?
In its first year, the Advisory Council issued a report detailing and scrutinising various dimensions of Tilburg’s refugee programmes. The report highlighted various problems and areas of untapped potential in local policies, but the advisory process was challenging. This was in part because of the format, a lengthy written report. After consulting with the chair and members of the Advisory Council, Tilburg and its regional municipality partners opted for an alternative format. The Advisory Council now offers continuous solicited and unsolicited advice on specific projects and policy interventions through focus group meetings. In 2020, the Advisory Council helped to assess and improve the accessibility of municipal communication. It also offered input for developing a joint vision on civic integration for the municipalities in the “Heart of Brabant” region.
Who initiated the project? How?
In 2018, Tilburg’s senior officials returned from a meeting in Brussels with a plan to set up a refugee advisory board, in the hope that this would enable greater structural involvement of refugee perspectives on policy development in Tilburg. The immediate inspiration was the European Migrant Advisory Board (EMAB), and the Tilburg Board set to work with the guiding motto “Nothing About Us Without Us”. By the end of 2018, they had realised that this first attempt was too open-ended, and lacking in clear coordination. In March 2019, this first advisory board was replaced by the regional Refugee Advisory Council.