Refugees who have received the right of permanent residence in the Netherlands are called 'statushouders' (literally 'status holders').  Amsterdam City Council aims to offer these status holders the opportunity to settle in the city as quickly as possible, either through supporting them in finding a job, going into education or starting a business. If this is not feasible at first, they will initially receive care and support towards social participation.

 Tesfalem is from Eritrea. His wanderings eventually took him to the Netherlands. Pending his application for permanent residence, he lived in Haarlem. After he received his status, he moved to Amsterdam where he enrolled in the Amsterdam Statushouders Programme. Ingrid was appointed as Tesfalem's client manager. 'I did not do an assessment,’ says Tesfalem. 'But I did have an extensive interview with Ingrid, which meant we got to know each other a bit. Ingrid wanted to know about my educational background, what kind of diplomas I had and what kind of work I had done in my home country.'

Assessment and intake

The first step in the Amsterdam Statushouders Programme is normally the assessment. But client managers can also opt for an extensive intake interview instead. The aim is to assess what the status holder needs to settle in Amsterdam. Often learning the language and finding a job or a suitable educational course are the first steps towards this goal. Status holders are entitled to benefits, but that is not the main aim. People need to get the opportunities to build their own future. After all, living on benefits is not a future.

Integration and language

Tesfalem noticed that not all Dutch councils support refugees in the same way as Amsterdam. He is very happy to have ended up in Amsterdam.

'I now live in the Slotermeer' (area of Amsterdam), Tesfalem continues. 'I have a good relationship with Ingrid, my client manager, and I'm really happy with the way she's helped me. She quickly got to know me and found a training college that really suited me - where I could learn the Dutch language and work at my integration in the Netherlands, together with others who had educational backgrounds similar to mine.'

 

Educational psychology graduate

In Eritrea Tesfalem graduated as an educational psychologist and worked at a number of different schools. He would often collaborate with NGOs that sponsored educational programmes in Eritrea. In his job Tesfalem had to liaise with teachers, as well as with pupils' parents. The aim was to get parents more involved in their children's education, which was often a real struggle. 'In Eritrea, many parents are illiterate, or functionally illiterate,' he explains. 'The system in Eritrea is completely different to the Dutch system, I have found. I did have a really good job over there, but there was no possibility for me to stay. And I'm really determined to build a new future over here.'

After the intake interview, Ingrid also helped Tesfalem with some practical matters and helped him to draft his CV, first in English, and then a translation into Dutch.

Orientation Programme

Akin to other refugees, Tesfalem enrolled in the Language Acquisition and Orientation Programme for Refugees. 'The issues they address include work, education, integration and settling into the city,' he explains. It turned out that Tesfalem has a real knack for languages. During the course he was already helping his fellow students to translate texts. Ingrid noticed this and  eventually managed to get him a job as an interpreter and admin supporter at Implacement, an agency who mediate for statushouders to find jobs and are also responsible for carrying out the Orientation Programme. Tesfalem works in both the Amsterdam and Hoofddorp offices. 'It was a big surprise to get this job, and I'm really happy to have been offered it,' he says. 'I work with a range of different students, helping them with their language problems and giving them administrative support as well. Without Ingrid I would only have been able to do volunteer work. Now I'm already on a six-month contract.'

 

New challenges

Through the Amsterdam Statushouders Programme, Ingrid has helped Tesfalem not only to start settling and follow the Orientation Programme, but also to find work as an interpreter and admin supporter at an employment intermediary  - and all this almost immediately after his move to Amsterdam.  'The Amsterdam Statushouders Programme positively requires a custom approach,' Ingrid emphasises. 'In Tesfalem's case it was important to find him paid work. As a client manager my job is mainly to support the status holders, and to help find ways which they would not be able to find by themselves. Tesfalem is a real go-getter and has put in a lot of work himself. He is keen to  take up new challenges.'

Linguistic talent

Tesfalem proved to have a real flair for languages. He has only been in the Netherlands for 18 months, but already has a good grasp of the Dutch language and has a B1 level proficiency. 'I have found that mastering Dutch is crucial,’ he explains. 'You need to know the language. At first my meetings with Ingrid were in English, but now we only talk in Dutch.' He is visibly proud to have come so far in such a short period.

 

Social network

Before moving to Amsterdam Tesfalem lived  for a short spell in Den Helder and then in Haarlem. He is still in contact with many of the fellow refugees he met there, as well as with several of  the local volunteers who helped to provide extra Dutch lessons. And now that he has a job working and liaising with a range of different people, his social network is expanding rapidly. This also helps him to settle.

 

What the future holds

Tesfalem would like to pick up his old job again, but he will still need to further improve his Dutch to be able to do this. When he attains B2 level Dutch, he will be able to further pursue his plans for the future. 'Level B2 proficiency means I can continue my education. I'm thinking of doing a masters.' Hopefully he will not have to start from scratch. His diplomas from Eritrea will soon be assessed by the UAF (University Asylum Fund).

 

'After my studies I would like to start a job in social work,' Tesfalem concludes. 'Here in the Netherlands I can see a lot of young Eritreans who find it really difficult to settle.  Often they are functionally illiterate and do not understand the Dutch system. I would like to set up a charity to give this group of people extra support. This would require more knowledge of the Dutch language and the Dutch system on my part. But I'm working at it. I'm on course.'