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Healthcare

Undocumented people speak for themselves during policy seminar on protection of their rights

A double move involving the strengthening of undocumented people’s leadership and the widening of inclusive spaces in which people can learn, work and access services independent of their immigration status is necessary for undocumented people to be able to realize their rights.

This was one of the conclusions of the policy seminar on “Towards better protection of undocumented people in the area of work and health” that took place at the International Institute for Social Studies (ISS) in The Hague on the afternoon of 1 November 2017. Organized by researchers from Tilburg University jointly with ISS faculty, the seminar enabled a constructive dialogue between people who do not often meet: undocumented people themselves, migrant support organizations, trade unionists, but also representatives of Dutch municipalities and government ministries.

In her introductory input, ISS researcher Karin Astrid Siegmann highlighted that undocumented people’s fear of identification, fines and discriminatory treatment presents a key obstacle to their effective access to healthcare. Information about health rights through trusted social networks can offer an effective antidote to these fears. Her presentation was based on a participatory study with Helen Hintjens and Richard Staring on the access of irregular migrants to healthcare in the Netherlands. Using the PEER methodology, undocumented women and men themselves acted as researchers in the study.

On the terrain of labour and human rights, access to effective protection remains difficult to realize for undocumented migrants, as shown by Lisa Berntsen, postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at INTERVICT, Tilburg University. The vulnerability of undocumented people is multidimensional: vulnerability in the domain of work is related to other spheres, such as health, housing, knowledge of and access to social support and protection mechanisms. Berntsen’s presentation was based on the casefile research into illegal employment at the Dutch labour inspectorate combined with an empirical interview study surveying 123 undocumented migrants in the city of Amsterdam. The study is part of the ‘Protection of labour migrants in the Netherlands’ research project, funded by Institute Gak and run by prof. Conny Rijken, dr. Tesseltje de Lange and dr. Lisa Berntsen. The feasibility of different policy scenarios, varying from improving effective access to existing rights, extending spaces for inclusive participation, and creating a legal right to work and remain, were discussed. The distribution of cards listing the health and labour rights of the undocumented (similar to the card on the safe reporting of crimes), creating inclusive activities related to language education and skills development, as well as possibilities for legalisation like the Geneva system, were put forward as concrete ideas to strengthen the position of undocumented people. Based on the constructive dialogue with the participants from various levels of government and civil society, the researchers will draft a policy brief with the recommendations to improve the position of undocumented migrants in the Netherlands.

Referring to the suggestion to learn from the experience of US cities of sanctuary to create more welcoming places in Europe, Tesseltje de Lange concluded the dialogue with the observation that: “It is appropriate to discuss undocumented people’s rights at ISS as the institute is a little sanctuary in itself.”