UAF is the oldest refugee organisation in the Netherlands, providing financial, social and academic support to refugees and asylum seekers who want to further their education or have their previous education and skills recognised. Support is concentrated in three areas: financial aid for studies, advice and guidance and employment assistance. To qualify for UAF support candidates must fulfil three requirements: 1) be either recognised refugees or asylum seekers with open applications, who have a well-founded fear of persecution as assessed by UAF 2) have completed at least 12 years of formal education and 3) have sufficient language skills in Dutch, French, English or German. Education counsellor’s help refugees make informed decisions about their future and can refer them to other social service providers depending on their needs. Refugees may register for a preparatory year where UAF will provide information on the education system, Dutch classes and initial coursework required for their future course of study. Externally, UAF negotiates affordable education and training fees with institutions and local governments. UAF’s job support department provides information and guidance, including training for refugees who are highly educated and seek employment or would like to start their own business. UAF evaluates the impact of its services by recording outcomes and carrying out studies and evaluations. These studies have shown that refugees have a higher drop-out rate during the first preparatory phase when compared to other students, yet once they officially begin a course of studies refugees progress faster than their classmates.
As in many countries, refugees’ former qualifications and experience often go unrecognised by Dutch employers. Diplomas are generally undervalued and even when they are fully recognised, most employers seem to prefer Dutch or Western qualifications. Given these obstacles, UAF supports the idea that the key to suitable and long-term employment is to re-qualify through the Dutch higher education system.
Since UAF’s creation, some 3000 refugees from 77 different countries have been assisted with the preparation and completion of studies and the job seeking process.Over 300 refugees have found suitable jobs each year as a result and around 200 have taken up internships or voluntary positions.
The demand for UAF’s services is very high, with a long waiting list of refugees wishing to access them (around 500 waiting in 2011). Mediating with local councils to ensure that refugees are able to study without losing their benefits and working with employers to ensure they see refugees’ potential and will consider adapting their recruitment procedures, are both ongoing challenges.