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Accepted paper:

Aspiring refugee support initiatives in Rotterdam: the ambiguous merging of solidarity and humanitarianism


Lieke van der Veer (Radboud University)

Paper short abstract:

This contribution focuses on the coordination among aspiring refugee support initiatives as well as their position vis-à-vis procured NGOs in the field, municipal funding schemes and policy frameworks. It shows how the ambiguous merging of solidarity and humanitarianism fuels distrust and hostility.

Paper long abstract:

In the Netherlands, from 2015 onwards, the spectacle of people arriving to seek refuge was channeled by media attention and political debate. A vast response of support initiatives emerged to assist these newcomers. Based on a 12-month ethnographic fieldwork period in the Dutch city of Rotterdam in 2018, this paper highlights the divisions that cut through the landscape of refugee support initiatives. In Rotterdam, aspiring refugee support initiatives generally reach out to the municipality for collaboration and/or funding. By doing so, they feel faced with competitive funding schemes and policy frameworks. Moreover, refugee support initiatives experience pressure to compromise their vision and goals; in order to be seen as a legitimate player, they adapt to municipal jargon, target groups and administrative focus. Intertwined with these practices of cooptation, the municipality advices refugee support initiatives to collaborate with procured NGOs. Refugee support initiatives are thereby indirectly made subject to the regulations that these procured NGOs are bound to. Aspiring refugee support initiatives however feel taken advantage of by these procured NGOs. At the same time, support initiatives slander fellow initiatives that they consider 'too entrepreneurial' and critique the independent and non-hierarchal solidarity movement for being 'ineffective and clientelist'. As such, distrust and hostility abound. This contribution engages with literatures on humanitarianism and solidarity (Cabot 2016, 2018; Fassin 2012; Karakayali 2017; Rozakou 2017; Theodossopoulos 2016) and infrastructures of refugee reception and integration (Boersma et al. 2017; Long 2015; Rozakou 2016; Nettelbladt and Boano 2019; Rast et al. 2019).

panel AA12
Helping in an era of hostility: Political agency and moral contestations in civil society movements for and by migrants