Team leader Floorke helps vulnerable youths: 'I've dedicated my heart to this work'

Conducting legal research, gaining trust, and guiding young people who are new in town: the staff of the ex-AMA team (AMA stands for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers) at the Dutch Council for Refugees in Utrecht 'push the boundaries of what’s possible'. Team leader Floorke Schoonheym (39) gives us a look behind the scenes.

Heavy load

Floorke's ex-AMA team has ten staff members who together guide 350 formerly unaccompanied minors, both status holders and undocumented. Floorke: 'We offer intensive support to this group. Often they have been through a lot in their lives, and having stability and something to hold on to is crucial.'

No network

When these young people reach the age of 17.5, Nidos hands them over to the Dutch Council for Refugees (until they turn 18 they fall under the legal guardianship of Nidos). 'The legal assistance is an intensive process that requires a stable living environment', Floorke tells us. 'When a stable living environment is available, we work on all different areas of life, such as education, financial stability and psychological well-being. Most young people in the Netherlands have a social safety net, parents and friends to help them find their way. These young people have no family and no network to turn to.'

Victim of human trafficking

The ex-AMA team works with the young people to build a sustainable future. 'That means we first work on establishing a relationship of trust’, Floorke continues. ‘Clients need to feel free to express themselves so we can give them appropriate advice and work towards a long-term plan.' Floorke remembers a woman who had no papers and was roaming the streets. Through various channels, she and her young daughter finally found their way to the Dutch Council for Refugees. Floorke: 'She was in bad shape. We pulled out all the stops and started by arranging housing for her. Because this woman had been a victim of human trafficking, it was important she received psychological help. Once she was settled, we continued our legal work. In collaboration with Defence for Children, we made an application to the then Minister of Justice based on "distressing circumstances", after which asylum was eventually granted.'

Lifeline

'As an undocumented migrant, you have few rights in the Netherlands. Fortunately, there are possibilities in Utrecht. They can stay in various shelters, they receive a living allowance and, if there is a medical necessity, they can see a doctor. Within the limits, we push the boundaries of what is possible. We see different people every day, strong people for whom you can be a lifeline. I’ve really dedicated my heart to this work.'

  • The ex-AMA team in Utrecht is the only unit that specifically works with former unaccompanied minor asylum seekers. Their work is co-financed by the Municipality of Utrecht.

 

Refugees inadequately protected in Europe when they turn eighteen

This interview took place as part of a European research project led by Oxfam on the transition of unaccompanied minors into adulthood in five European countries: France, Greece, Italy, Ireland and the Netherlands. The study sounds the alarm about the dangers young refugees face when they turn 18. There is a lack of a coherent European policy, and in all five countries they face problems in accessing residence permits, housing, employment, education and guidance. Nevertheless, the report also shows a number of inspiring examples of what does work: the ex-UAM team of the Dutch Council for Refugees in Utrecht is one of them. In the Netherlands the research was conducted by Mohammed Badran and Milka Yemane on behalf of the Dutch Council for Refugees. Read the report here >>

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