With Euro-Wijzer, the Dutch Council for Refugees has created a methodology that increases the financial independence of refugees. ‘They are a vulnerable group, and material temptations are strong. The first thing they receive through the post in the Netherlands, so to speak, are advertising brochures offering expensive phones and huge televisions sets.’
National project manager Corine van Egten outlines the problem. ‘Refugees in the Netherlands belong to a large risk group that can end up with debt problems. They start life in the Netherlands with a very vulnerable income position and are generally aged under twenty, with a low level of education.
Refugees holding residence permits feel a great financial burden towards their family, who live elsewhere. They often start out with loans in order to furnish their homes for which, they are offered a special municipal credit line. In addition to this, they are offered a loan by DUO, the Education Executive Agency, to finance their compulsory integration process. The Netherlands is an extremely complex country in terms of finances and admin. Refugees often have insufficient command of the Dutch language and digital skills to manage their financial affairs independently. Meanwhile, buying on credit is very easy, which increases material temptation.’
In order to make this vulnerable group more financially independent, the Council for Refugees has been developing the Euro-Wiser method since 2015. ‘Founding mother’ and National Projects manager Sylvia van de Graaf explains what this preventive methodology involves. ‘As a result of previous project experience, we can see that introducing refugees to the Euro-Wiser method early on in the integration process is extremely effective. This includes six group sessions in which we use videos and pictograms to explain how to keep a monthly budget. The participants develop their financial and digital skills and also get tips on things like how to save energy. There are also budget coaches for clients who need extra guidance. We explain how the Dutch situation differs from that in their own country.’
Bassel Hallaq (pictured) fled Syria himself and worked as an interpreter during three Euro-Wiser courses: ‘I translated from Dutch to Arabic, and learnt a lot in the process. Three things in particular: how the Dutch tax system works, and how the government distributes money among agencies to provide services for society. Furthermore, we were taught how to make an expenditure plan and received an Excel sheet in which we could fill out our income and outgoings. The majority of students found this the most useful thing about Euro-Wiser.
We also learnt about work. What are my rights? What is the minimum wage? At that time, I was working at McDonalds after previously doing only volunteer jobs, so when I received a salary, I felt like a king. During the course, I understood that I was earning the minimum wage. I didn’t even know such a thing existed! The best thing about the course was how easy it was to understand everything, even for those who could hardly read or write.’
During the three project years Euro-Wiser helped 3100 refugees in 150 municipalities become financially independent. To this end 1100 trained volunteers were deployed. With the financial support of Oranjefonds, Rabofoundation and Dioraphte, the Dutch Council for Refugees continued to roll out the program across the Netherlands in 2020. Naturally, Covid-19 threw a spanner in the works. The deferred introduction of a new integration law delayed further expansion. Van de Graaf: ‘The law that was due in 2019, will now not enter into force until January 2022. It makes people feel apprehensive. Many local councils have expressed an intention to work with Euro-Wiser, but they would first like to see what the financial impact of the new law will be for them. It has proved to be a reliable programme. We have full confidence that once the new law comes into force, that we will have many new councils coming on board.’