Newcomer or refugee? Why the Dutch are sensitive about labels

Newcomer or refugee? Why the Dutch are sensitive about labels

You’ll find that the word newcomer is used a lot in the Netherlands,” says Hanna Wieten from DeliteLabs, a Dutch organisation working with people from a refugee background to develop business ideas.

“We typically don’t use the word refugee. Sometimes you have to specify, but we prefer not to use it on our website: we work with people. I strongly believe being a refugee is an experience but it doesn’t define a person.”

As the refugee crisis has intensified, words such as “immigrants”, “refugees” and “migrants” have governed political discourse in Europe in recent years. Although each carries a different legal definition, they are often conflated and politicised.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees notes that interchanging terms can cause problems for those seeking asylum and confuse discussions about migration.

I had so many conversations with newcomers and they were all done with the idea that they were sad and needed help, they just wanted to build a normal life. This is why we use the word newcomer.

Julius Weise, BlendIn founder 

In the Netherlands, pejorative terms have been used, with Geer Wilders, the far-right leader of the Freedom Party (PVV), describing the wave of people crossing the Mediterranean as an “Islamic invasion”. Wilders was defeated in last year’s general election by Mark Rutte, but still made significant gains, winning 20 seats.

But a recent opinion poll by CBS, a Dutch statistics gathering organisation, suggested 77 percent were in favour of admitting those who have fled their countries because of war or persecution.

As Europe continues to obsess over the number of people seeking safety on its shores, as recently evidenced by the EU summit in June, those working with refug

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