National Interests in Urban Politics: Amsterdam’s Shelter for Undocumented Migrants

Published 1 June 2018
By Lisa Roodenburg

A publication in an Amsterdam newspaper stated last week that the national government will take pre-emptive action if Amsterdam opens a 24 hour facility for undocumented migrants. This facility would be an ‘upgrade’ to an existing facility and one of the new city government’s first initiatives. For my own research, I read and think about the progressive visions of city governments and their ability to stretch the boundaries of national thinking. Interestingly, Amsterdam might have reached a limit in such progressiveness and faces greater control by the national level.

As of 2015 Amsterdam has a facility called Bed Bad Brood (“the BBB”) that offers undocumented migrants a bed, a bath and two meals between 17.00 pm and 09.00 am. The facility has continued to change. Over the years, the facility became more professional and structured because of the usual learning curve, but it also transformed due to urban politics and the constant lobbying of NGOs. For instance, in late 2017 the conditions of the BBB changed: Dublin claimants and migrants from ‘safe’ countries were no longer welcome. In spring 2018 it was decided that the winter shelter would stay open for a while longer, so people would not end up on the streets. And now, the plan for a 24 hour facility was launched. All decisions are the end result of a combination of urban politics and a balancing act with the national level.

The decision to provide shelter for undocumented migrants is not in line with the views of the more right wing national government. A majority in the House of Representatives (mainly right-wing parties) supported a proposal to prevent the opening of a 24 hour facility in Amsterdam. Whether this proposal can actually be executed is still under debate, but it shows a certain tendency. Yet while the city of Groningen already has a (successful) 24 hour facility since 2015, the response of the national government was only focused on Amsterdam. I presume there is more attention for Amsterdam, it being the capital and thus having an exemplary function both in the Netherlands and abroad. In addition, political relations might have become more complicated with the arrival of the new city government as it is evidently left-wing. A development that was not received with much joy by the right-wing prime minister.

These developments show how a national government is trying to get a grip on developments in the city, especially regarding a delicate matter like migration. When cities for instance strive to be climate friendly, independently of national policies, they face little consequences. Yet with the treatment of migrants there is more at stake for the national government and they might have more motives to control this urban development.