Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences

Pay and prove yourself – this is the message to refugees

AUAS researcher Nadine Blankvoort at TEDx Maastricht

5 Nov 2018 11:48 | Communication

Pay a fine, prove yourself and take tests are the messages expressed most frequently in Dutch folders and brochures for refugees. This is the observation of Nadine Blankvoort, lecturer-researcher at AUAS and Maastricht University, who is analysing the discourse of these information sources for her doctoral research. She gave a TED talk about her research at TEDx Maastricht on Friday 12 October.

Nadine Blankvoort analysed a number of sources, including brochures published by the government, books in integration programmes, civic integration tests and the government civic integration website Nieuw in Nederland during the first phase of her doctoral research. She can already derive several facts on the basis of discourse analysis.


The underlying message observed by Blankvoort when studying text sources can be summarised as ‘prove yourself while you integrate, without help’. The three most prominent messages that she observed were: ‘pay a fine’, ‘prove it to us’ and ‘take a test’.

Blankvoort was not surprised: “Refugees must pass six language and civic integration tests within three years, otherwise they must repay 10,000 euros plus interest. At present, more than fifty percent of the refugees in the Netherlands have this fine hanging over their heads.”

Time and money: issues that typify the Dutch, based on the analysed info.

Money, time, punctuality

Blankvoort also examines the image of ‘the Dutch’ that is communicated in these sources of information. In the discourse, what typifies ‘the Dutch’ comes down to: money, time and independence. The language used is never specific, but the recurring messages are implicit, explains Blankvoort: “It is as if the Dutch are a single group of people who think and act the same. In the discourse, the Dutch are depicted as hard workers who do not need anything from the government, are punctual and create a calm environment.”

The 'discourse' analysed by Blankvoort refers to the use of language relating to integration and underlying ideas.

Canada: ‘meet, discover, try’

Previous research revealed that the current integration programme in the Netherlands does not work, and there are plans to develop new programmes. Blankvoort: ‘If it is too far removed from what people are able to do, we must take a closer look at the requirements and the discourse.’

Blankvoort is Canadian, and she has also studied the discourse for refugees in sources of information provided by the Canadian government. At first sight it is completely different. Instead of ‘pay, prove and test’, there it is about ‘meet, discover and make friends’. “With this, you express another message – you show that it is important to meet other people, to find your place in society.”

Interviews and cooperation with refugees lead Blankvoort to suspect that the current discourse causes more stress in the daily lives of refugees. “The discourse ensures that certain things are top-of-mind, and therefore determine your choices and options. You internalise messages. This leads to thoughts such as – Do I want to live here? Then I must find work as quickly as possible, besides taking all of the tests and exams. If I do not do this I am failing to handle my integration correctly’.

Daily life

A new aspect of Blankvoort’s approach is that she not only analyses the discourse in sources of information, but also studies what this actually means for the daily lives of refugees.

“How do refugees feel when they repeatedly read and hear these things? Do you feel more stress in your daily life if you have the thought that you must be as independent as possible in the back of your mind, because otherwise you will not be able to become Dutch?” The research into the daily life of refugees will be one of the next steps in Blankvoort’s doctoral research.


She also wants her research to help the Dutch become aware of this. ‘I wonder whether we in the Netherlands are aware of how we approach newcomers. The discourse is actually also a reflection of what we value as a society. Do we know what image of ourselves we are projecting, and is that what we want?”

An example from an online integration workbook.

Nadine Blankvoort started her doctoral research in 2017:

  • To date, she has analysed five brochures and two books for civic integration programmes in depth at the text level using Carol Bacchi’s What’s the Problem Represented to Be? method.
  • When the analysis of the text sources provided by the government is complete, she will also analyse the discourse of civic initiatives in the Netherlands, which work a great deal with volunteers (they probably use a different discourse).
  • Blankvoort will then study practical situations in both civic integration courses and civic initiatives. Does verbal discussion create a different image of integration than on paper?
  • Blankvoort then intends to analyse the current discourse jointly with refugees, and to ascertain its effect on their daily lives.

As a final step, Blankvoort intends to examine all of the results with a group of refugees, citizens and employees of civic integration courses to ascertain whether a new discourse is necessary and can be developed.

Refugees are an important target group for the profession of occupational therapy. This specifically examines people’s daily lives and what support they need in order to be able to participate.

In recent months, Blankvoort has been working with a group of refugees on their view on occupational therapy. It will be published in the October edition of the World Federation of Occupational Therapy magazine, of which the refugees are also co-authors.

The refugees interviewed occupational therapists, wrote their own definition of the profession and gave advice on how they see the role of occupational therapy with refugees. “What was striking was that they did not want any physical support or treatments, but primarily – stand by me, do not do it for me, but help me to find my place in this society.”

Watch Nadine Blankvoort's TED talk.