Netherland Hans van den Brink

Hans van den Brink
Photo: Annaleen Louwes

What does the term refugee mean to you?

The settled citizens of today are the refugees of tomorrow, and vice versa. This means that there is always fear, but also hope. To be a refugee is  by definition a temporary status, but that is also true for a secure citizenship.

Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?

Not at all. The great migrations in previous centuries from Europe to America, Africa and Asia were primarily economically motivated. Former colonial powers certainly are not in a position to make a principle objection  to economic refugees.

And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?

Here too, the common responsibility of mankind is even greater than in the case of the economic refugees. Even more so when ecological problems are caused by human activities, such as climate change.

When does one cease to be a refugee?

At least after one generation. The refugee’s children don’t have to have that status anymore and do not have to express gratitude to the host country.

Is there a natural right to asylum?

Yes of course. This is stated in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but can be equally derived from the Bible and other than Christian traditions.

If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?

Human rights cannot be lost, even if they are being contested.

Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?

Unlimited is a dangerous concept, especially if it is used rhetorically: it indicates that something is out of control and thus limits definitely must be applied. In this context, compare the use of the term refugee crisis. With this term the suggestion is made in the Western world that a crisis exists  in our own society, while the real refugee crisis obviously takes place in the Third World, and in the hearts and minds of the refugees themselves.

If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?

A limit is set by agreement, and the agreement in this case depends on the more or less coincidental consensus in the country where asylum has been requested. Lebanon, which has a population of 4 million, hosts more than 1 million political refugees. One could say that this is proof of this possibility. The percentage of first-generation “economic refugees” (mostly Germans) was even higher in the Golden Age of Amsterdam. Also that was possible. Nowadays at much lower percentages of refugees a “crisis” is declared (see above). A quantitative limit therefore cannot be set. This is not correct in the case of a basic principle that declares that the quality of a society should not change with the arrival of refugees. Then the limit  is zero.

Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?

A person who is famous and/or has money is always welcome, almost everywhere. But these people are usually not indicated as economic refugees but rather as 'expats', which also suggests that we gladly release them from the duty to integrate.

Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?

The Dutch system is fundamentally humane, but gets inhumane tendencies when the existing right procedures take such a long time that the application itself is no longer righteous. If someone waits for eight years to receive a permit of residency, this person should get this right away. Children that grew up here belong here.

Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?


What are the requirements for successful integration?

- on the part of the refugees?

The willingness to work and to do everything to facilitate that work, such as following adequate training and learning the language. The desire to get acquainted with the culture of the new country - but not the obligation to adopt it.  To respect the laws of the country.

- on the part of the citizens of the host country?

To take on an open attitude towards refugees and to recognize that newcomers will inevitably exert an influence on the culture of the country, which will result in certain changes. The willingness to explain clearly the laws of the country and the required behavior, without requiring that the feelings and thoughts of new citizens will be adapted accordingly. The mind is always free.

Do you know any refugees personally?


Do you actively support any refugees?


How will the refugee situation in your country develop

a) over the next two years?

I hope that the influx will become smaller, not by closing the borders but by improving the situation, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa.

b) over the next two decades?

I hope for an integration of new Dutchmen with less aggression when it comes to notions which we now might regard as obsolete, but which were still prevalent in our society fifty years ago.

Can you imagine a world without refugees?

No. I do not believe that there will be an end to this saga.

If yes: what does it take?

A global natural disaster that will cause the end of the anthropocene.

Have you or your family ever been refugee?


Do you think you will ever be a one?

- If yes: why?

If the Netherlands will step out of the EU, I'll find myself a luxurious place of exile.

- How do you prepare yourself?

With my check book and atlas.

- To which country would you take refuge to?

Germany is certainly an option, as well as Spain and Argentina.

How much “home” do you need?*

A lot. I am always on the lookout, but I know it exists in different places, both in space as in time. On the other hand, I manage very well without homelands.

*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.