Refugees in the Netherlands: what you need to know

Refugees in the Netherlands: what you need to know

During 2015 a large number of refugees arrived in the Netherlands. We separate fact from fiction and let you know how you can help.

The Centraal Orgaan opvang Asielzoekers (COA), VluchtelingenWerk Nederland, the Dutch Red Cross and the Salvation Army are working together to meet the needs of refugees arriving in the Netherlands and awaiting processing.

The Immigration and Natural Service (IND) deals with the asylum requests and decides whether a refugee can stay or not.

Some basic facts

Between January and October 2015 more than 45.000 people sought asylum in the Netherlands. The majority are Syrians, followed by people from Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The last time the world (not just Western Europe) saw this number of refugees was during World War II. 97 percent of Syrian refugees stay in the region around Syria and do not travel to Europe, according to VluchtelingenWerk.

Aren't most refugees just economic migrants?

Refugees have left everything behind. Their family, their friends, their home, their job or school and sometimes even their children. The journey to Western Europe and the Netherlands is often a very perilous one.

The decision to become a refugee is not one that is taken lightly, it is the last resort in an attempt to regain a normal life at some point in the future. Economic migrants have only financial reasons for leaving their home country.

During the intake process, the IND verifies whether the refugee is truthful and honest about their story, their identity and their reason for coming to the Netherlands.

The decision of whether or not a refugee is allowed to stay is also not taken lightly by the IND. Refugees who cannot prove that they have non-financial motives for coming to the Netherlands are not granted asylum and are sent back.

How come so many refugees carry smartphones?

Just because someone has been forced to become a refugee does not mean that they were poor originally. Smartphones serve two essential purposes for refugees.

The GPS and online maps allow refugees to navigate and to find their way to their intended destination. Many are forced to swim across rivers and have to cross dangerous borders, and with the help of a smartphone they can choose the least dangerous path.

A smartphone allows refugees to stay in contact with family and friends during their journey and after their arrival in the country where they seek asylum. Refugees also use social media to inform each other of areas to avoid and where they can find support.

Why do so many men travel alone and leave their families behind?

The journey to Western Europe is a dangerous one. In 2015, more than 3.700 refugees drowned while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.

The smugglers who transport refugees charge a lot of money, and many refugees cannot afford to pay for their entire family. Family reunification is therefore very important to many of these single men.

Why don’t the Syrian refugees stay in the region?

The vast majority of Syrian refugees don’t travel to Europe, only three percent end up here according to Vluchtelingenwerk. Most of the refugees live in refugee camps in neighbouring countries.

The United Nations estimates that more than four million Syrian refugees are staying in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and North Africa. Many live in deplorable conditions in refugee camps on the borders.

To put the following numbers in perspective, the EU has a population of 500 million. The Netherlands has almost 17 million residents and 45.000 refugees.

The refugee population around Syria is as follows:
In Lebanon (population: 4,5 million) there are 1,2 million Syrian refugees.
In Jordan (population: 6,5 million) there are 630.000 refugees.
In Turkey (population: almost 75 million) there are about 2 million refugees.
In the enormous refugee camp Domiz in Iraq an estimated 58.000 people are living.

How you can help

There are two short-term ways to make a positive contribution to the current refugee situation: by volunteering and by donating.


You can donate clothes via the Red Cross, at one of the 1.400 locations of the Salvation Army or to the local, temporary "crisis shelters" in your area. 

These are the items currently needed by refugees:
Winter clothing (coats, sweaters, shoes, scarfs, gloves and hats)
Underwear of all kinds for all ages
Suitcases, travel bags
Workout clothes and jogging pants
Strollers, baby buggies and maxi-cosi's
Hygiene products (shampoo, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, tampons etc.)

The above list changes daily and varies per location, so please check first with the Facebook groups listed further down.


You can volunteer at one of the shelters in your area or at a Red Cross WelkomWinkel.
You can sign up as a Red Cross volunteer for refugees here.

Facebook is proving to be an invaluable resource for coordinating the efforts of volunteers in different cities across the Netherlands.

For up-to-date information on how you can contribute and what donations are needed at the local crisis shelters, please check out the Facebook group that is closest to you:

Long-term ways of making a difference

To prevent long-term unemployment among refugees they need to be quickly integrated. Teaching them the language and putting them in touch with local professionals with a similar employment background will go a very long way.

Many refugees are highly educated but need help connecting and need to improve their language skills.

There are two initiatives that aim to facilitate this process:
Provide refugees with conversational practice in Dutch or English. Sign up here if you live around Amsterdam.
Connect refugees with local professionals and businesses: Refugee StartForce

For more information please check:
VluchtelingenWerk Nederland

Have you participated in any local initiatives to help refugees in the Netherlands? Please share your experiences!

Thomas Lundberg


Thomas Lundberg

Born as a Swede in the Netherlands, this life-long expat has spent his time in Belgium, the United States and Amsterdam. He began his professional career as a regional news...

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Aren12 14:00 | 31 January 2019

Unfair system of IND in Holland that has not pay attention for refugees who came by walking acrossed many of countries.Furthermore their countries have been significant damaged. On the other hand, turkish refugees flowing evey year to Europe countries with fake reasons such as their country it's self seeking for them to be out side help economic inside by money transfer Turkish. More and more of aggravated steps IND don't care about it.The refugees who came walking or transite by air plane are same .I came from Yemen destroyed country by gulf countries and I crossed more than 14 countries by walking 9 months . We are not having them money like other refugees who stay in turkey or somewhere and collect money to come to Europe as refugees . Yemen is destroyed country before war it's self and now we have big war and famine . It is really complicated situation to describe even when Yemenies more than 8 months in Holland just waiting for interview most of them the face death just in way to come here.Since I came to here I met many nation 90% are came to change their economic situation.Iranian they said I'm now Christian at praviate speech they told just I do that for get residence ID. What I want say here there are no Justice even in Hague state.