19 September 2022

Slowly but surely: strengthening the rights of refugees in the Netherlands

Seeing the obstacles that those seeking asylum in the Netherlands face on a daily basis – and sometimes, over several years – we have stepped up our efforts to assist refugees. For the past year, we have consolidated our approach by collaborating with other organisations, strengthening our own knowledge on the intersection between refugee rights and the law, and carrying out work that will positively impact the lives of refugees. Below, we list several partners in the NGO sector, and describe how we assist them in the work they do for refugees in the Netherlands.

VluchtelingenWerk Nederland

De Brauw forms part of the Pro Bono Collaborative for Refugees in the Netherlands, which consists of eight leading law firms in the Amsterdam Zuidas area. Together, these firms assist Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland (VWN), a Dutch NGO assisting refugees in applying for asylum in the Netherlands.

In a two-day training course, our associates volunteers learn about the asylum process and the hurdles to acquiring legal status. Participants study the criteria as outlined by the Geneva Convention on Refugees, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights (ECHR) and Dutch asylum law to learn how interviews with asylum seekers are assessed by the various administrative bodies. By training's end, our associates conduct detailed flight story analyses to map the protection needs of refugees, help them better understand their procedure and support them in enforcing their rights.

The feedback from our associates is positive: they indicate that this project gives them the opportunity to employ their legal skills for people in need and they are proud to be part of this collaboration.

ASKV | Steunpunt Vluchtelingen

ASKV Refugee Support is an Amsterdam-based organisation that provides legal assistance and social support to asylum seekers in the Netherlands whose applications have been rejected. Undocumented refugees are often caught in an impossible position: being unable to return to their country of origin, and lacking access to social security, education and employment in the Netherlands. It is not unusual for many such people to become outcasts, vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

The involvement of De Brauw is important, as cases of undocumented refugees whose applications for asylum have been rejected are complex and voluminous, while legal aid funds for asylum seekers are sparse. De Brauw assists ASKV in examining the possibility for undocumented people to legalise their residence in the Netherlands. We screen and summarise case files and assist ASKV and asylum lawyers to prepare a new application for a residence permit for the applicant. ASKV has indicated that our help is very useful, as ASKV workers can devote more time on preparing a strong residence permit application and, ultimately, enhancing the possibility that an applicant will see a positive outcome - and a better life.

Refugee Force

Our Corporate Advisory practice group is advising RefugeeForce on its legal structure. RefugeeForce aims to help refugees to develop skills and build careers as Salesforce experts. In doing this, RefugeeForce is single-handedly changing the perceptions of employers, organisations, and society about the experience and skills that refugees bring with them to build new lives in their host country.

With its social objectives, RefugeeForce is currently exploring the possibility of becoming a social enterprise, and De Brauw is advising RefugeeForce on how to do this - including which legal structure would best suit the organisation. Social enterprises must have a clearly defined social purpose that must also be the primary objective of the organisation. However, there is some room for profit. This can be an attractive option for investors, leading to more systemic change than the traditional donation model.

There are restrictions on the legal structure of Dutch foundations and, thus, of social enterprises, as the latter also seek to achieve a commercial goal (in additional to a social one). The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy is drafting a bill that would introduce a "BVm", a private limited company (BV), for social enterprises. Until it passes, a social enterprises code outlines criteria that social enterprises can meet voluntarily. The BVm and the Code are based on comparable principles and are both instruments for recognition. A BV that meets the requirements may be a good fit for a social enterprise because there are checks and balances in place to prioritise the social purpose above profit distribution to shareholders.

It is a pleasure for us to work with these various organisations and assisting them in strengthening the rights of refugees in the Netherlands.