Federation for
Housing and

The inequality of the ‘refugee’ status

I realize I’m very lucky. Just because my father chose a Dutch nationality, instead of an Indonesian one. My Indonesian grandfather came to the Netherlands to study and met my Dutch grandmother here. Now I am entitled to a Dutch passport.
Now I am entitled to a Dutch passport. With that little booklet I’ve been able to get an easy visa upon arrival in 24 countries in 5 different continents. But that is just a fraction of the 171 countries that open the doors to Dutch citizens. Even with just my backpack budget I was warmly welcomed everywhere.

Just not here

How different it was when my cousin wanted to come to the Netherlands on short notice! He was born and raised in Indonesia, with an Indonesian nationality and passport. Ten years ago my Dutch grandmother passed away here in the Netherlands. My cousin wanted to attend the funeral, as the oldest son of her oldest son. In Indonesia that means something. Not to the Dutch embassy. He could get the visa after waiting 5 to 8 working days. Too late for the funeral.
Just to set things straight. My cousin is the son of a big business tycoon (my uncle) in Indonesia, who chose an Indonesian nationality. My cousin has more college credentials and money than I will ever get. Still his passport will only grant him access to 14 (!) countries, of which none in North America or Europe. Even in matters of life and death, he is met with distrust, lack of interest and a lot of red tape. Luckily it was not his own life on the line.

Other way around

Irony has it that it was my Indonesian grandfather, who had to smuggle German citizens out of Germany. Through the Netherlands, to the Belgian border, together with fellow Indonesian students. They were the ideal smugglers, because they had dark hair. It was the beginning of the forties, the German citizens were dark-haired Jewish children. My grandfather always took my uncle along, then a young boy. With a bit of flair and make-believe, they passed every checkpoint. The children were ‘his’ children when asked.
The fellowship of Indonesian students went back to Indonesia, with wives and children. And after a turbulent beginning, they experienced a relatively peaceful period. But that was shaken up violently with the coup d’etat of 1965. My father’s family had to flee and was shattered, spread over 4 different countries for the following 7 years. Communication was difficult, so they were mostly unaware of each other’s whereabouts. Eventually my father was forced to come back to the Netherlands and was re-naturalized as a Dutch citizen.

Building a beneficial future

Today I watch the news and it irritates me. Somehow the allergy to inequality was passed down to me. I’m working with my office Studio ROSA to develop existing slums in Latin America, Africa and Asia. We believe we should do this with respect to all stakeholders: inhabitants, land owners and governments. That is why we are developing tools for participation in urban planning in informal settlements. Basically we start with getting everybody to understand one another.
Working both inside and outside of ‘Fortress Europe’ has certainly broadened my perspective. I can still relate to the concerns of my Dutch neighbors about their jobs, housing shortage and fear of all the incoming strangers. I can also relate to the fear the newcomers must have experienced to leave their familiar life behind. I also believe that the first fearful encounters are just a phase, but a very unpleasant one. Once we get to know each other we will be fine.
This is where we can help as planners and designers. How can we make the encounter phase pleasant? How can we make hosts and guests understand each other? And shape a life together, that is beneficial to both?
This blogpost is written by Kria Djoyoadhiningrat (Architect and partner at Studio Rosa) and was originally published on the IFHP Housing Refugees website in 2016.