Former Afghan employees of the Dutch embassy in Kabul who were evacuated last year have to pay for their stay in asylum seekers’ centres. They previously received severance pay from the Dutch government, of which they now have to pay board and lodging. PvdA MP Kati Piri: “I find taking the severance pay in exchange for shelter extremely painful.”
The 37 Afghan embassy employees and their families arrived in the Netherlands at the end of August last year. They were then transferred to the asylum shelter in Zoutkamp. Two weeks after their arrival, a delegation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs arrived. The Afghans were handed a letter of resignation.
“We were shocked, and also sad,” said one of the former embassy employees. “Some of us had been working for the embassy for 20 years. We looked at each other and said: what’s going on here?”
According to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the former employees of the Dutch embassy were already informed in the spring of 2021 about the scenario that they will leave employment if the embassy closes or is scaled down.
Ministry says it has informed former employees several times
The embassy employees who had been notified of their dismissal were entitled to a transition payment, as is customary in the Netherlands. But now it appears that they have to hand over part of that money for board and lodging to the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA). This is done on the basis of the “Own contribution to capital” scheme. The ministry also says that it has informed the former employees several times about this.
Now that all Afghan former employees have a citizen service number and a bank account, the severance pay will be transferred. On May 31, the ministry pointed out to them that they therefore have to pay a contribution to the COA.
If an individual asylum seeker has more than 6,505 euros (for families more than 13,010 euros), this must be reported. The COA determines on a case-by-case basis how much must be paid for board and lodging.
‘It is according to the rules, but it is very distressing’
PvdA MP Kati Piri is angry about the state of affairs. “Instead of acting on the idea that we owe a debt of honor to these people, the rules are again heartlessly applied. And every moral sense is missing. The minister must adjust this policy immediately.”
Yannick Du Pont of the SPARK foundation, which guides the 37 embassy employees to new work, is also displeased with the state of affairs. “It all fits according to the rules, but it is very distressing. These people have worked for the Dutch government and were brought here by us. A number of them planned to use this money to start their own company. That’s not possible now.”
In the United Kingdom, the campaign started immediately after the evacuations in August last year Operation Warm Welcome started for Afghans who have worked for the British government. According to Du Pont, there is “not much noticeable” of similar support in the Netherlands.
Towed from hot to her
The payment for board and lodging is not the only thing about which there is astonishment and indignation among the Afghans and their escorts. They have been dragged from one place to another in recent months: from Zoutkamp to Harskamp, then back to Zoutkamp and then people are scattered across the country. Some of them have moved as many as six times, according to Du Pont.
And that leads to huge delays. “People have to start over again with their language course or driving lessons. We find jobs, but then families are transferred and the job prospects are gone again.”
One of the Afghans, who only want to speak anonymously, has known for months that he can get a job in the Randstad. Alone, he and his family are in a shelter in the east of the Netherlands. So he is forced to wait. “For example, fourteen well-paying jobs have already been lost,” said Dupont. Six other former employees have already found a job, four others will sign an annual contract soon if all goes well.
Strict rules lead to frustration
There is something wonderful about it, says Du Pont: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wants to act quickly, but this is frustrated by the strict rules that COA, municipalities and other institutions have to implement.
“I’m scared of this,” says Du Pont. His foundation is also active in countries such as Turkey, where thousands of Syrians have been helped to find jobs in recent years. “It all goes much slower here than in Turkey. There we find work, housing, it all goes much more smoothly,” says Du Pont.
What does he think is wrong? In the Netherlands it is not the individual that is central, but the system. “The asylum seekers are in second place. They are a plaything of the system and politics. There are four or five different authorities responsible, nobody picks up the ball. As a result, the individual gets lost.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs informs NU.nl that it has spoken “on several occasions at a high level” with the COA “in relation to Afghan former employees”.