Renswoude and Aalten give Thorbecke justice

During the Second World War, there were more people in hiding in the Achterhoek than anywhere else in the Netherlands. It is therefore no coincidence that the National Hideout Museum is located in Aalten. In that place, about 2,500 people were cared for in hiding out of a population of 13,400 righteous. They now receive about four Ukrainians per 1,000 inhabitants there. However, the front runner in the Ukraine crisis is Renswoude, which has 33 Ukrainians in the BRP per 1,000 inhabitants. But in my search for the compulsion and persistence that should have involved this, I came across a very different story.

Mayor Doornenbal told Scherpenzeelse Krant that a man from Ukraine worked at a nursing home in Renswoude years ago. When she understood from him that a bus was on its way to the Netherlands, the mayor had asked around who had room to receive Ukrainians. This resulted in everything from mobile homes to a complete industrial hall. And then the bus was welcome in Renswoude. After which the municipality also had to work hard. Providing shelter is one thing, arranging health care, education and counseling is quite another. Furthermore, the responsibility for the safety of the refugees remains with the government.

Providing shelter is one thing, arranging health care, education and guidance is just another

Everything and everyone must therefore always be able to fall back on the municipality and the municipality must conversely be on top of everything. ‘It’s fun, but also a lot of work,’ says Ellen Bruijns, the seemingly optimistic contact person for Renswoude municipality. Private childcare in both municipalities does not stand alone. Of the 70,000 Ukrainians currently living in the Netherlands, 20,000 are accommodated by private initiatives. For those interested in the vitality of the design of the Thorbecke house, this is a sign of hope. Because that’s how he envisioned it: not a national bureaucracy that sooner or later faces an amorphous mass of individuals, but communities that develop social initiatives under public responsibility.

On paper, the government is also very much in favor of this theory. Recognition and appreciation of private reception is not uncommon. But practice is different. Private reception was not included in the objectives of the security regions. Municipalities, busy around the clock with private reception, were therefore still known as merciless innkeepers. In addition, there was compensation for everything except the staff needed to support the private reception and to supervise the host families. When Mayor Stapelkamp van Aalten drew attention to this via the VNG magazine and Trouw, the tide seemed to turn. Parliamentary questions came.

But the answers cause concern for those interested in the threats to the interior of the Thorbecke house. For among all the recognition and appreciation of the reception of private individuals, which the Secretary of State generously gives, one sentence stands out: ‘Due to the voluntary nature, the municipalities cannot of course control the number of reception places at the pubs.’ Especially the ‘natural’ stings.

Because municipalities cannot officially accommodate refugees with volunteers. In that sense, you cannot control voluntariness. But municipalities that still meaningfully coincide with communities can actually stimulate and facilitate social initiatives. In fact, this kind of voluntary management is the whole idea in those municipalities. And mayors like Petra Doornenbal with employees like Ellen Bruijns prove that it is still possible. Not in a form of control, but on the basis of trust. At a time when support for refugee reception is crumbling, one expects the government to focus on private reception. But if Mayor Stapelkamp wants to see the costs of the five ‘Ellens’ in Aalten reimbursed, he must first convert the shelters into official municipal spaces. Or, following Aalten’s custom, he must want to raid another distribution office for more food stamps.

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