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Local Authorities Workshop on Strategies for the Reception of Undocumented Families

by Sangeetha Iengar, PICUM Project Assistant

On 23 February 2012 The Children’s House in Leiden saw almost fifty municipal officials come together for PICUM’s joint workshop on the local reception of undocumented families co-hosted by Defence for Children International and the Municipality of Utrecht.

Participants of the “scholingsdag” (training) first discussed the legal framework around undocumented families.  Sabine de Jong of Defence for Children opened the day presenting the “Little Guide to the Rights of Undocumented Children” (www.Ilegaalkind.nl) which has been developed to assist professionals in realising the rights of undocumented children.

Caroline Forder, Professor of Family Law and Child Rights spoke of the international legal context surrounding undocumented families.  Using the illustration of an undocumented woman and her three small children with no remaining legal possibilities to access shelter, and nowhere to stay the night, municipal officials were urged to adopt a facts-based rather than a rules-first approach when dealing with families, particularly those with children.

Participants benefited from Teun de Vries, Vice President of the International Chamber of the Central Board of Appeal (CBA) speaking personally about developments in the national legal context.  He gave examples of how recent court rulings could be used effectively by local authorities in practice.

Moving from the legal context to local practice, Leon van Sasse van IJsselt described how the Hague Youth Care Agency has reacted against the separation of undocumented children from their families in the juvenile care system, and is working towards reception solutions for families.  Niene Oepkes from the City of Utrecht and Niek Galama from the municipality of Alkmaar then gave examples of formal and informal approaches that local government officials can apply when dealing with the reception of families.

In the small group sessions participants pulled together these different strategies and prepared and argued a fictional case of an undocumented family before real CBA judges.

The training day brought out the need for local actors to work together, using the Dutch legal framework to assist them in addressing the reality of undocumented families with children living in Dutch municipalities.  Going forwards the local partnerships presented from The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht form good models.

The workshop was one of seven national workshops being held within the framework of the “Building Strategies to Improve the Protection of Undocumented Children” project. The next workshop will be held on 17th April in Brussels, Belgium.

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