Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Is asylum bad for men (and better for women)? Changing perspectives on female and male refugees and asylum seekers in the Netherlands in the period 1945-2000

Subproject of "Differences that make all the difference. Gender, migration and vulnerability (migration to the Netherlands 1945-2005)"

2006 - 2012
Marlou Schrover
NWO Vici NWO Vici

A remarkable fact triggers my research. Recent studies show that female asylum seekers in the Netherlands are granted refugee status or a humanitarian status relatively more often than their male counterparts. In the period between 1993 and 1998 the chances for female asylees of acquiring asylum were 8% percent higher than the chances of male asylees according to figures of the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service. This fact was confirmed by recent research on the period 1993-2005 by two Sociologists. Data of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for Sweden for the period 1995-1997 and for Switzerland for the period 1993-1996 showed that female asylum applicants likewise stood better chances of positive outcomes than men. Apparently sex influences the outcome of an asylum request. For earlier periods no similar data not exist on the recognition rates of asylum seekers, but one might expect that during periods prior to 1993 female asylum seekers counted on a more favourable treatment by the Dutch immigration authorities. The question of course is why it is more favourable to be a woman. Is it because of the law? Is it because the backgrounds of male and female asylums seekers are different? Is it because they flee because of different reasons? Or is it because the decision takers of the Ministry of Justice are less restrictive towards women? Or finally, and I believe this might be the case, is that the arguments used to grant -or deny- asylum to men or women are different. 

In my dissertation I describe the asylum policies of the Dutch authorities after the Second World War (1945-2000). This migration has not yet been described from a long term perspective. This is true for the Netherlands, but also for other countries. Most often only the arrival of one particular group of asylum seekers is described. The leading question of this research is why certain asylum seekers were granted asylum and others were denied a status. I am mainly interested in the arguments used by the different people involved in the procedure during different periods. Not only the arguments of the decision takers are inventoried, but also the arguments used by individuals who wanted to alter the decisions of the Ministry of Justice. I collect their arguments in the individual case files of asylum seekers of the Ministry of Justice and Foreign Affairs. I believe that arguments forwarded by supporters of asylum seekers did affect decisions and that they were able to convince the decision takers of the juridical machinery to grant asylum seekers a status.  

Several groups of arguments are distinguished and I believe that the line of argumentation altered since the late 1940s. For example in the early fifties the fear of communistic spies was present in many case files of the Ministry of Justice. This argument disappeared later and then often asylum seekers were described only as vulnerable innocent victims. In these case files one could find letters sent by various people with various backgrounds; classmates of the children of asylum seekers, members of the same church, but also of the employer of the asylum seeker. 

By looking at the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion for a period of 55 years it becomes possible to discover changes in the positioning of actors towards asylees and refugees. In my case gender awareness means that attention is paid to the fact that women fled for different reasons and encountered different support networks during their flights and in the receiving society. Therefore I believe that male and female have (or “created”) different refugee claims, but also that their supporters maintained these gender differences, when they pleaded in favour of male or female asylum seeker.

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