Dorien Marres, operational director at NewBees, talks about the project ‘Participating without Civic Integration’

Since the war in Ukraine, millions of people have fled their country. More than 70,000 people have come to the Netherlands. “We didn’t see it coming and wanted to do something for these refugees,” says Dorien Marres, director of operations at NewBees. She spoke with Renée Frissen, founder and director of OpenEmbassy. Together they decided to use their expertise, experience and proven instruments for these ‘new arrivals’ and support their access to Dutch society. This is how the project ‘Participation without integration’ came about and with it the opportunity to capitalize on the opportunity that arises, because for this group there is no asylum procedure that causes delays.

Dorien: “My assumption was that this group of people needed something completely different from other newcomers who are required to integrate in the Netherlands. Ukrainians do not go through a lengthy asylum procedure, they receive no housing nor benefits, and in the group, there are mostly women with children and elderly people. In our teams there are many people with a refugee history, but they are not from this region. The programs we have developed do not necessarily take into account the needs of this new group of people.”

Ask and listen

“It is not our way of working to determine what other persons need. We ask, we listen, find out what their concrete needs are and adapt our methods and tools accordingly. What works and what doesn’t? What can NewBees do for this specific group? What do we learn from these newcomers who participate without civic integration? How can we use what we learn for the broad group of newcomers in the Netherlands?”

“We want them to make a good start here and at the same time we learn how to better organize integration.”

Individual conversations and focus groups discussions

“We started in Zaanstad where we hired a colleague who is originally Ukrainian and who has been living in the Netherlands for 30 years: Natalya. By means of individual interviews and three focus group discussions, we wanted to gain insight into the specific needs of this group regarding participation and working in the Netherlands. Natalya quickly found people who wanted to participate in our research. In the same period we met Liza, a communications specialist from Ukraine who came to the Netherlands just before the war and was eager to help us. Liza and Natalya supervised all the individual conversations and the three focus group discussions and translated the results.”

Not necessary to do anything entirely different

“The research showed that we should not do anything entirely different from what we have been doing for other newcomers so far. What we need are people who speak the language. That is why we hired new colleagues who speak Ukrainian and English in Amsterdam and Nijmegen, the 2 locations where we will also start this project. We also developed and translated additional participation modules and new workshops.”

“What do we learn from these newcomers who participate without civic integration? And how can we use what we learn for the broad group of newcomers in the Netherlands?”

Short term planning vs. long waiting

“We assume that ‘regular’ integrators can only start building up their existence here once they move to the city where they get housing. It is different for people from Ukraine. They start almost immediately upon arrival in the Netherlands. They usually live in emergency shelters, have an uncertain future and need short-term solutions. Much is still uncertain for them. Are they going back to Ukraine soon? Will their partners come to the Netherlands? Will they continue to live in the same region? Can they work at all? They receive a living allowance (a small amount comparable to what people receive in debt restructuring) but they want to send money to their family back home. That is why they prefer to find paid work immediately. Many of them don’t care what kind of work. They say that in Ukraine it is very common to tackle everything and learn ‘on the job’.”

Fewer obligations but also fewer rights

“People from Ukraine who reside here in the Netherlands have fewer obligations than ‘regular’ people seeking integration. However they also do not have certain rights, such as the right to benefits or to free language lessons. Almost all the ‘regular’ people integrating receive benefits and have slightly more choice between first learning the language or working immediately, or a combination of both. Unfortunately, before they integrate, they often spend years waiting in asylum centers and are ‘made to believe’ that they cannot work in the Netherlands as long as they have not reached a certain language level. After years of waiting, their confidence in their own abilities is often very low. Ukrainians follow a completely different path. They can participate without having to integrate first.”

“In addition to guiding people towards a good place in society, we hope that this project will bring about a positive change in how we as a society deal with integration and in our vision of integration.”

A good start and system change

“The project ‘Participating without integration’ has two objectives. First of all, we hope that the 75 people participating in our program will get a good start in the Netherlands. We would like to guide many more people, but if we want to do something meaningful, we have to put in time and quality. Fortunately, there are more organizations that are committed to this group. In addition to guiding people towards a good place in society, we hope that this project will bring about a positive change in how we as a society deal with integration and in our vision of integration.”

The key to a successful integration

“In Zaanstad, Natalya has already matched 11 people to paid or volunteer jobs at various local entrepreneurs. Soon Tetiana in Amsterdam and Yana in Nijmegen will also start working on the project in their regions. At the same time, OpenEmbassy’s action researchers and community builders are collecting data and insights. In doing so, we will demonstrate that early participation has a positive impact on all stakeholders, both the newcomers and the hosting society. We also hope to prove that participating quickly is the key to successful integration and to living together as a nice society.”


For more information about the project please go to our project page.


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