Tag Archives netherlands

Human Trafficking | How anti-trafficking governance is getting it wrong: consequences of the differential treatment of migrant worker groups in the Netherlands

Human Trafficking | How anti-trafficking governance is getting it wrong: consequences of the differential treatment of migrant worker groups in the Netherlands

In many countries, including the Netherlands, being an immigrant – or being perceived as one – is a key mechanism used to normalise job precarity and poorly paid work. From ...

EADI/ISS Series | Two faces of the automation revolution: impacts on working conditions of migrant labourers in the Dutch agri-food sector

EADI/ISS Series | Two faces of the automation revolution: impacts on working conditions of migrant labourers in the Dutch agri-food sector

by Tyler Williams, Oane Visser, Karin Astrid Siegmann and Petar Ivosevic Rapid advances in robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are enabling production increases in the Dutch agri-food sector, but are also ...

Venezuelan refugees on Curaçao have entered the Kingdom of the Netherlands! by Peter Heintze, Dorothea Hilhorst and Dennis Dijkzeul

“Reception of refugees in the region” is a central concept in the foreign policy of the Dutch government. It means that the Netherlands wants to financially support countries that accept refugees fleeing from a conflict in a neighboring region rather than enabling refugees to migrate onwards to Europe. Usually, the regions where refugees need to be sheltered are far away from the borders of our Kingdom. Suddenly, however, the Netherlands Kingdom has become the region itself.

Refugees from Venezuela are arriving in small but growing numbers on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. Curaçao is a remnant of colonial history, in that it is an independent country that continues to be part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The response to the fleeing Venezuelans now arriving on the island is highly inadequate and it is recognized that human rights are being violated on a large scale.

A recent report of Refugee International states that: “In displacement crises, the quality of services and assistance typically varies from one host country to another, but the fate of Venezuelans seeking refuge on the small island of Curaçao, only 40 miles from the coast of Venezuela, could very well be the worst in the Americas”. It is high time that the Netherlands, as the main country of the Kingdom, starts to make a serious effort to ensure that refugees are properly accommodated in their own region.


Curaçao, an island state with 160,000 inhabitants, is struggling with major problems. The exploitation of the Curaçao oil refinery by the Venezuelan oil company brought jobs and foreign currency. And so did wealthy Americans and Venezuelans who came to spend their money in the paradise-like tropical tourist resorts.

Now everything has changed. Due to American sanctions against Venezuela, the refinery has almost come to a standstill, hotels have closed their doors, and the Insel Air airline was declared bankrupt in February. Twenty-six percent of the population is unemployed. The crisis in Venezuela is deeply affecting the economy of Curaçao, and its public finances are running out. Meanwhile, in Venezuela, less than eighty kilometers away from Curaçao, a political, social and economic tragedy is taking place. The international community is preparing for the large-scale provision of humanitarian aid. Distraught Venezuelans are leaving the country.

And that’s how the problems arise on Curaçao. Under pressure from a complaining population, a faltering economy and declining government revenues, the government in Willemstad is trying to prevent the arrival of undocumented Venezuelan migrants. Instead of recognizing their desperate situation, the Venezuelan migrants are being portrayed as criminals.


For generations, people have travelled back and forth between the South American mainland and the Caribbean Islands off the coast. Boats brought fish, fruits and seasonal workers. This has always gone on openly, outside of official rules and without international supervision. Besides fish and fruit, the boats also bring drugs and weapons and facilitate human trafficking. Nowadays they also bring more and more refugees from Venezuela.

The Venezuelans, who could be entitled to international protection under international law, are suffering the consequences. They do not receive shelter or protection. Instead, they are treated as criminals who need to be expelled as soon as possible. The Curaçao government does not acknowledge that this entails grave human rights violations. The government is resorting to fear mongering and repeatedly states it needs to act against illegal migration in order to avoid a potential pull effect, which might cause the country to attract even more migrants.

The role of the Netherlands

Curaçao is an independent state within the Kingdom of the Netherlands and is responsible for its own asylum policy and migration issues. However, the Statute of the Kingdom stipulates that the states have a duty of care for each other, especially in times of emergency. Moreover, foreign and defence policy is formally a responsibility of the Kingdom as a whole. If there are human rights violations within the Kingdom, the Kingdom is responsible. However, the Netherlands is currently failing to extend support to the forced migrants who are entitled to protection. Observers in Curaçao are advocating a more hands-on attitude on the part of the Netherlands: less distant and more in cognizance of the spirit of the Kingdom.

As early as July 2018, the Advisory Council for International Issues (Adviesraad voor Internationale Vraagstukken / IAV) warned of legal inequality within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and pointed out the importance of respect for human rights. The potential impact of the Venezuela crisis on Curaçao forces the Kingdom to take a pro-active stance to protect Venezuelan refugees. Everyone understands that in the current situation, Curaçao can neither handle the influx with its own resources nor uphold refugee law. It is time for civil servants from Curaçao and the Netherlands to jointly set up a functioning asylum procedure for Curaçao and make it work!

Protecting Venezuelan refugees is in the first place a responsibility of the state of Curaçao. Nonetheless, the Netherlands should step in and support the country to provide a decent level of care to the despair migrants from Venezuela. The Netherlands has always favoured reception of refugees in the region; it is time to walk the talk.

Image Credit: Cookie Nguyen. The image was cropped.

About the authors:

Peter Heintze 2016 01 19_048Peter Heintze is an independent researcher, as well as coordinator of the KUNO – platform for humanitarian knowledge exchange in the Netherlands.


TheaDorothea Hilhorst is Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. She is a regular author for Bliss. Read all her posts here


dennis finalDennis Dijkzeul is a Professor in Conflict and Organization Research at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany.


The Netherlands and Colombia: A Blurry Alliance by Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo

The Netherlands and Colombia: A Blurry Alliance by Ana María Arbeláez Trujillo

The Netherlands may have found in Colombia a strategic partner to help expand its commercial activities, but Colombia’s complex social context needs to be carefully considered. Whether this alliance will ...

Striking for a transformative university by Karin Astrid Siegmann and Amod Shah

Striking for a transformative university by Karin Astrid Siegmann and Amod Shah

Budget cuts in higher education limit universities’ transformative potential. A big strike is therefore planned in the Netherlands for all sectors of education on 15 March 2019. This strike follows ...

The battle for Zwarte Piet: Everyday racism in the Netherlands by Dorothea Hilhorst

Every year around this time, a major cultural and identity clash emerges in the Netherlands as proponents and opponents of Sinterklaas (the Dutch version of Santa Claus) clash over Zwarte Piet, his black servant. However, instead of leading to resolution, debates on Zwarte Piet have become increasingly marked by violence and intolerance, as some fiercely defend this tradition, while others call for change. What is the debate all about, and how can it provide us with insights on everyday racism in the Netherlands and beyond?

As a child growing up in a Dutch, white suburb, my favourite tradition in the Netherlands has always been Sinterklaas. It is our variation of Santa Claus, but our Sint gives the children presents on the occasion of his birthday on 5 December. Three weeks before the big day, Sint arrives by steamboat in the Netherlands and during the three weeks’ stay he visits schools, families, and hospitals to meet children. Before going to bed, kids place their shoes near the chimney or door. They sing the traditional songs about Sinterklaas, and add a root or water for Sinterklaas’ horse. In the middle of the night, Sinterklaas’ servants – so the story goes – would enter through the chimney and place sweets or presents in the shoes.


As a child, Sinterklaas was the highlight of my year, and I was never aware of the racist character of the tradition. Sinterklaas is surrounded by servants that are black. Although there are many myths about the origin of Zwarte Piet, it is not difficult to see remnants here of the Dutch history riddled with slavery. The representation of Zwarte Piet, a servant with exaggerated racial traits, including shiny black skin, kinky hair, and fat red lips, is perceived by many as reproducing racial stereotypes and as a form of everyday racism. For the last ten years, the discussion on Zwarte Piet has escalated to become a principal battleground of what it means to be Dutch in the twenty-first century.

In 2014, a UN research team concluded that Zwarte Piet was indeed racist, and the report noted that the committee was shocked to find how ignorant Dutch society is about its history with slavery. The e-mail account of one of the researchers, Jamaican professor Verene Shepherd, had to be temporarily closed due to extensive hate mail from Dutch people who felt that one of their most precious traditions was being attacked.


While protest against Zwarte Piet is growing in the Netherlands, it is important to note that the tradition is not under attack. Nobody wants to ban the tradition of Sinterklaas, protesters just want a minor adaptation to Zwarte Piet. The proposed alternative is Roetveegpiet: a person of unspecified ethnicity that is blackened by the soot from inside the chimneys through which Piet supposedly enters the houses. This alternative seems simple and doable, yet the Netherlands continues to be utterly divided over the matter. When HEMA – a popular store – announced in 2015 that it was changing its December displays to the Roetveegpiet, it quickly had to backtrack because of a consumer boycott and security threats received by HEMA personnel.

In 2017, when Sinterklaas’ arrival by steamboat took place in the province of Friesland, a number of people blocked the highway to stop anti-Zwarte Piet demonstrators from holding a peaceful protest. The people who blocked the highway have recently been convicted by a court to several weeks of community service, but fail to understand why and show no remorse or regrets.

This year, 2018, the arrival of Sinterklaas was accompanied in many cities by violent attacks on peaceful protesters against Zwarte Piet. Apparently, the core of those coming to the defence of Zwarte Piet is now formed by football hooligans that take joy in throwing cans and other objects at the protesters. Dozens of the hooligans have been arrested. While extremist hooligans are the most visible part of the pro-Zwarte Piet movement, surveys show that in the society at large the support for Zwarte Piet is declining, but that he can still count on majority support among the population.

For this reason perhaps, the Dutch government so far has refused to intervene in the debate, claiming this is not a political, but a socio-cultural issue. Only last week, the leader of the Christian party Christen Unie that forms part of the current government coalition publicly announced his support for Roetvegenpiet.

It is quite incredible how Zwarte Piet has become the epicentre of the stormy discussion on how the Netherlands has to relate to itself in times of diversity and migration. Accusations of racism on the one hand and treason on the other entrench antagonism in the battle for or against Zwarte Piet.


At ISS, everyday racism is a major topic of analysis. One of the things that I’ve learned from our international students is that something can be racist with or without intention. When somebody is reprimanded after telling a nasty joke about black people, the usual defence is, “Oh, but I never meant that to be racist, and, by the way, I have many black friends.”

But even without the intention of racism, a joke can be racist in the sense that it reproduces prejudice about minority groups with a different skin colour or a non-majority ethnic background. And even without racist intention, these friends may still find it unpleasant to hear the jokes.

How can this insight help us in the Zwarte Piet debate? Could Zwarte Piet critics believe that the large majority of Zwarte Piet lovers have no racist intentions? And could Zwarte Piet defenders then acknowledge that Zwarte Piet is nonetheless a hurtful expression of everyday racism?

The author (on the right) with her sister in the 1970s.

In November 2013, the ISS community sent a letter to Erasmus University’s Rector Magnificus to raise the issue of the celebration of Sinterklaas and the everyday racism it represents. The letter was a response to an invitation (which just had a picture of Zwarte Piet) to celebrate Sinterklaas on the Erasmus University campus in Rotterdam. Authors of the letter called for the recognition and appreciation of principles of tolerance on which the ISS strives to be built and requested that the university starts to consider alternative forms of representation to overcome the racial stereotyping from the celebration of Sinterklaas. The letter was signed by 52 members of the community.

Picture Credit: MysterieusVP


About the author:

Dorothea Hilhorst is Professor of Humanitarian Aid and Reconstruction at the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam.



The university of paleness by Willem Schinkel

The university of paleness by Willem Schinkel

In a recent attempt to address the underrepresentation of female professors in the Netherlands, the Dutch government made extra funds available to universities to appoint women. To the dismay of ...

Diversity in the Dutch local elections by Kees Biekart and Antony Otieno Ong’ayo

Diversity in the Dutch local elections by Kees Biekart and Antony Otieno Ong’ayo

‘Migrant-led’ political parties are on the rise in the Netherlands—a natural reaction to extreme anti-migration populism of the past decade. Insights into the local elections held on 21 March 2018 ...