| CONTAINED | Would you have what it takes to be a migrant?

container 2I am very proud and excited to introduce CONTAINED, a project of theatre and research on migration.

CONTAINED will create immersive theatrical performances on decisions, journeys, and arrivals, based on research among migrants from around the world. It is also a research project that explores ways to bring migrant’s experiences in dialogue with public perceptions on migration.

As a kick-off, we launched a taster of this project at the International Migration Institute’s 10th anniversary conference: The Greenhouse. After a day of talking about migration, we let the participants of the conference experience what it feels like to become a migrant – or not. The reactions showed that champagne in a greenhouse can be an excellent metaphor for international migration.

it looked like so much fun“It looked like so much fun!”
In the corner of the drinks reception after a full day of talking about migration, the participants of the conference were confronted with a champagne party taking place in a colourfully decorated and warmly lit greenhouse. Not only did the people inside the greenhouse seem to have a really good time, there were also several extra bottles of champagne and glasses. In the twenty minutes that followed, the conference participants all went through different stages in which they decided whether or not they wanted to join the champagne party.

“I only went in because I knew someone there”SAM_2800
Minutes went by without anyone interacting with the greenhouse. After a pioneer – me – entered and was warmly welcomed with champagne, other people also joined. Most were young women and (former) colleagues of mine. In migration jargon, this is called chain migration.

“I thought it was not for me”
The overwhelming majority of all conference participants chose not to go into the greenhouse to get champagne, even when they were asked to come. Most people already had a drink, and although it was not champagne, they were also too busy talking to colleagues, or were standing too far away to see what was going on. Other people said afterwards they would have liked to go, but felt too shy, or too old. Despite relative differences in living conditions, only a very small percentage of the world’s population decides to migrate to a wealthier place. Many are held back by a variety of factors, or just don’t have migration on their mind.

“I was attracted by the champagne but I was disappointed by the quality”
As long as the door was open and the atmosphere was welcoming, the greenhouse was slowly filling up with adventurous young people who came and went as they pleased. Even if the space was small, everyone enjoyed the feeling of experiencing something special, and the champagne. But someone said he was disappointed by the champagne, which turned out to be of very cheap quality! For migrants too, things can look shinier from the outside than in reality.

“I think I’m gonna go now”
As the greenhouse was getting full, the reception of new arrivals slowly changed. Two actors trying to get in were refused at the door. One of them managed to bribe her way in by bringing cashew nuts. The other became angry and tried to force his way in. When the door and the window of the greenhouse were closed to keep the unwanted guest out, the warm and cosy greenhouse suddenly became a claustrophobic place. People started leaving the greenhouse. Afterwards, they said they had felt vulnerable, being attacked from outside while inside an unstable construction that gave no protection. A bit like some people in receiving countries are fearing uncontrolled influxes of new migrants.

“You’re getting the point”
After all guests had left the greenhouse, the performance ended with a short choreography of different reactions to new arrivals, followed by an explanatory talk. Being migration researchers, people only needed a few words to get the link between what they had just experienced and migration. With any other audience, people’s own experiences in and around the greenhouse can be a great start of a dialogue on decisions, journeys and impacts of migrants.

The Greenhouse is just one of many possible manifestations of CONTAINED. We are now fundraising for CONTAINED. Watch this space and contained-project.com to stay updated about new developments!

CONTAINED is a cooperation of myself and Anja Meinhardt of the physical theatre company Justice in Motion, together with Remco Heijmans and Steve Hay. Melissa Bori, Jon Ouin and Ophelie Lebrasseur also contributed to The Greenhouse.

Je moet het zien, dan heb je geen woorden meer nodig

auto met koffersSchoonzus Annemarie van Houte werkt sinds kort in het AZC in Budel, waar ze nieuw binnengekomen asielzoekers onderzoekt op hun geestelijke en lichamelijke gezondheid. Als doorgewinterde Intensive Care verpleegkundige schrikt ze van wat ze tegenkomt. “Ik hoop dat er mensen zijn die ook op de langere termijn deze asielzoekers willen bijstaan”.

Meer dan de helft van de asielzoekers die nu bij ons binnenkomen heeft zichtbare tekenen dat ze vreselijke dingen hebben meegemaakt. Tekenen van marteling, verkrachting, brandmerken, een ingescheurde wang van een pistool, brandwonden, en gedrag dat wijst op trauma.

Ik dacht dat mensen van bijvoorbeeld Syrië direct naar hier kwamen. Maar dat is nooit het geval. Mensen leggen een enorme weg af: ze gaan naar een buurland, en nog een, dan de zee, dan een Europees land waar het ook heel slecht is, voordat ze hier aankomen. De mensen die hier nu aankomen, zijn vaak al jaren op de vlucht. Daar dragen ze de verhalen en tekenen van mee. Keer op keer hebben ze de hoop gehad dat ze een veilig bestaan zouden vinden als ze verder zouden trekken, ondanks het verlies van familieleden onderweg en gezondheidsproblemen. Maar steeds zijn ze teleurgesteld, of de verkeerde mensen tegengekomen.

Nu zitten ze bij ons, in een kleine ruimte bij elkaar. Ze vertrouwen niemand meer, zitten nog steeds in onzekerheid. Het zijn allemaal individuen met individuele problemen, die proberen er op hun manier mee om te gaan. Echt niet iedere asielzoeker is zo zielig. Daar moet je ook realistisch in zijn. Maar een heel groot deel wel.

“Ik ben in juni begonnen als verpleegkundige bij het AZC. Omdat ik zag dat er veel spullen nodig waren voor de nieuw binnengekomen asielzoekers, heb ik een oproep op facebook geplaatst. Nu rij ik elke dag met een auto en een aanhanger naar Budel. Ik heb niet zoveel gedaan, maar de welwillendheid van de mensen om iets te doen is overweldigend. Zoveel mensen zijn gemobiliseerd door een simpele oproep.

“Deze mensen zitten hier nog wel een tijd. Ik hoop dat er mensen zijn die naast het doneren van geld en spullen, ook op de langere termijn bereid zijn om deze asielzoekers bij te staan. Mensen die activiteiten willen komen doen op het centrum: kindertheater of sportactiviteiten. Of mensen die groepjes asielzoekers uitnodigen om iets te gaan doen, om even uit de situatie te zijn. Vrijwilligers voor de bibliotheek hebben we ook nodig, en boeken in het Arabisch, Frans, Engels, en Nederlands.

“Mensen spreken van gelukszoekers, maar ik hoop dat de vluchtelingen die naar Nederland  komen, er nu gewoon een beetje beter aan toe zijn. Ze zeggen dat de verhalen aangedikt worden door de media en door de asielzoekers zelf. Toen ik aan dit werk begon had ik ook geen idee van wat mensen naar Nederland drijft. Maar de medische feiten spreken voor zich. Je moet het zien, dan heb je geen woorden meer nodig”.

Kun jij iets betekenen voor de asielzoekers in Budel? Mail naar inzamelingsactiebudel@gmail.com.


New position at IMI

image IMIFrom January 2015, I will be connected to the International Migration Institute as a Marie Curie postdoctoral research fellow. I will be working on a research project on migrants’ contribution to (political) change in the country of origin, within the TRANSMIC project.

After an extremely inspiring time at the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance, where I wrote my PhD thesis, and a short but wonderful time as an internal consultant at the OECD Development Centre in Paris, I now look forward to moving to Oxford.

Read more here.

PhD defence 20 November 2014

cover-van-houte-moving-back-or-moving-forward-phd-thesis-2014On 20 November 2014 I defended my PhD thesis ‘Moving Back or Moving Forward? Return Migration After Conflict’.

This thesis examines the idea that ‘when migrants return home after conflict, they will contribute to development and peace-building’. Although this optimistic idea is the basis for a number of current European national policies aiming to link together issues of migration, development and security, this thesis detects the mismatch between policy and reality.

The thesis is based on a comparative study among 178 returnees in six countries across the world, and an in-depth study among 35 returned migrants in Afghanistan. The findings highlight that return neither is a movement back to normal, nor is it easily a movement forward to change. When migrants return to their country of origin, they do not automatically contribute to development and peace-building. An important factor is the motivation for return: migrants who return voluntarily while having the legal alternative to stay and can decide to leave again after return, have more potential than rejected asylum seekers and undocumented migrants, who had no legal option to stay and returned involuntarily.

The thesis concludes that there is a mismatch between the allocation of development budgets and the development potential of return migrants: while the expectations on which Migration and Development policies are based are only true for a small minority of voluntary returnees, this is not the group that is targeted by policy. While providing an incentive for the return of unwanted migrants is in the interest of host countries, it is unjustified to use development budgets for this purpose.

This study was financially supported by Cordaid, PSO, and UNU-MERIT