‘Secretive integration week’
23 March 2007 - Immigrants complain that they receive almost no
information about integration courses, although they can be fined
if they do not get a diploma in time. The municipality says there
is no cause for concern.
As of 1 January, a new Integration Act is in power. In principle,
immigrants must now arrange their own integration courses and pass
a test. However, some groups will be offered a course by the municipality
and will only have to pay 270 euro.
At the discussion forum of the Foreign Partner Association (SBP)
people complain that it is almost impossible to obtain information
on how Amsterdam is going to organise the integration courses. When
they call an information line, they would be told to wait until
1 April when districts have set up their information centres.
“I almost felt sorry for the lady answering the telephone
because she also felt so powerless”, wrote Nadia at the forum.
Arthur Zielhorst, head of communication at the Social Development
Department (DMO), said the complaints about the provision of information
do not sound familiar.
an integration week with the motto ‘Integration. Another way
of saying Participation’ has been launched, but this campaign
primarily targets people who are not legally obliged to follow an
integration course. Immigrants who are obliged to follow such a
course will be approached personally.
Wanda Pelt, board member of the SBP and district council member
for GroenLinks in ZuiderAmstel,
said that almost no-one was informed in advance about the campaign:
a ‘very secretive Integration Week’. This would be illustrative
of the lack of information about the subject.
For example, marriage immigrants are asking themselves whether
they will be provided with a course by the municipality, or have
to make their own arrangements. DMO’s Zielhorst: “You
always have to consider the individual case. So I am not going to
say that it will never happen that people get no offer, but that
will not by definition always be the case for this group”.
He expects that the group that will not be offered a course will
be small. “Most people will qualify for an offer from the
municipality through one arrangement or another”.
The new integration courses should have been introduced by 1 January,
but Amsterdam was granted respite until 1 April. Immigrants are
concerned that they will now become pressed for time. If they do
not obtain a diploma within 3.5 or 5 years (depending on their situation),
they will be fined. In addition, they cannot obtain an independent
residence permit without a diploma.
Zielhorst says there is not reason for concern: “there is
ample time to meet that obligation”. Also, immigrants can
already begin following language courses. However, Pelt finds that
this group must be granted a respite. She is bringing this under
the attention of politicians in the Hague.
According to Pelt, the problems have been caused in part by former
minister Rita Verdonk’s insistence on introducing the new
Integration Act in a hurry. However, she finds that there are municipalities
that do better than Amsterdam, such as Utrecht and Rotterdam.
For example, the latter municipality would make much more use of
Incidentally, magazine de Groene Amsterdammer reports that ‘reintegration
bureaus’ - companies that are commissioned to provide support
to jobseekers - are now trying to obtain a share of the market for
integration courses. They have no special expertise on that terrain,
but they are ‘very apt at winning complex tenders’.
In Amsterdam, contracts for integration courses will be placed
at the end of this month. Zielhorst cannot say whether any reintegration
bureaus are among the candidates. Earlier this year, the local accounting
office published a very critical report on the work of reintegration
bureaus in Amsterdam.
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