Campaigning for the rights of expat children in the Netherlands

Expat of the month
  • expat mom and daughter
Published on 2021-10-06 at 10:00 by Veedushi
Originally from Ecuador, Andrea is a mom and lawyer who has been living in the Netherlands for nine years now. After the country introduced a travel ban for family members from outside the European Union, she started a campaign for helping expat children in the Netherlands reunite with their parents and grandparents. But in May 2021, the government finally lifted this entry ban under certain conditions. Andrea talks to about the impact of this campaign and expat children's rights in the Netherlands.

Can you please introduce yourself (where are you from, job, family situation, etc.)?

My name is Andrea Morales. I was born in Ecuador. In 2012, I moved to The Netherlands. I am a lawyer with a Masters' Degree in Public International Law. I am a mother of three girls. I live together with my husband and daughters in 's-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands.

What brought you to the Netherlands?

I came to the Netherlands because of love. I met my husband in Ecuador, and after getting married, we decided to live in the Netherlands. I have been living here for nine years.

What made you want to leave Ecuador?

Before meeting my husband, I had no plans to leave Ecuador. After I met him, we decided to start our life together in the Netherlands due to his work. He had a new job opportunity, and I decided to study for my Masters' Degree here at Leiden University.

You are the founder of the movement 'Families van buiten de EU, wij missen jullie!' (Families from outside the EU, we miss you!). Tell us more about this campaign and your motivations.

"Families van buiten de EU, wij missen jullie!" is an initiative that allowed thousands of children in the Netherlands to reunite with their family members from outside the European Union. From November 2020 onwards, this campaign sought recognition for their Right to Family Life. Due to the entry ban enforced by the Ministry of Justice of the Netherlands, non-EU nationals were forbidden from travelling to the Netherlands without having an "essential reason". The Dutch government still decides what constitutes an “essential reason” for entering the country.

I started this initiative because I felt my daughters were being discriminated against by the entry ban. If all children and families in the Netherlands were free to choose the type of contact they wanted to have with their relatives during the pandemic, I wanted the same freedom of choice for my daughters and my family. My daughters and I wanted to see my mother, but it was forbidden for her to come and visit us for more than 19th months. While in the summer of 2020 life was going almost back to normal in the Netherlands, children with non-EU family members were forbidden from having their relatives visiting them. The entry ban had (and still has) no end date. This uncertainty made the prolonged separation even more complicated.

From July 2020 until May 2021, the Netherlands implemented all types of exemptions to the entry ban, but family members were not included. It felt disproportionate and unfair to know that there were more than 25 categories of exempted travellers and that family visits were not considered an essential reason for travelling to the Netherlands. I came across children who had not seen their own father for over a year; babies who had never met their grandparents; single mothers who gave birth alone because their parents were denied entrance to the Netherlands to be with them during delivery; and mothers who lost their babies before birth and could not receive the support of their parents during those painful moments; all these circumstances motivated me. I decided to start an Instagram and Facebook campaign to give visibility to the pain of all these families, to support each other and to assure everyone we were not alone in our thoughts and feelings.

@Wij_missen_jullie booked its first BIG success on May 15th, 2021, when the Netherlands allowed the entrance of grandparents of children who were born after March 19th, 2020 (start date of the entry ban). The entrance of parents of minor children living in the Netherlands was also allowed on this date. This first step was a relief for many families who would finally be together after 14 months. Many of the babies born during this period (March 19th, 2020, until May 15th, 2021) were already toddlers who had never been held, hugged or kissed by their grandparents.
On the other hand, this exemption to the entry ban created a new discrimination ground based on the date of birth of the child to be visited. A child born on March 18th, 2020, could not meet his/her grandparents, while a child born a day after could. From an epidemiological perspective, this distinction was irrelevant. Older children were the ones asking for their grandparents, but their Right to Family Life was still unrecognized.

My own children could still not see their grandmother because of their age. Once again, the unfairness of the situation motivated me to continue with our campaign. All the support received by families who were desperate to reunite helped me through the hard moments. They felt grateful to me for voicing their needs, but I felt even more grateful for them for motivating me to continue and for supporting me at all times.

Today, things seem to be improving regarding stranded and separated families in the Netherlands? What are the new conditions? Tell us how you feel about that.

On September 16th 2021, the government of the Netherlands finally recognized that visiting minor grandchildren in the Netherlands is an essential reason for travelling to this country. As such, visiting grandchildren (regardless of the nationality or vaccination status of the grandparents) became an exemption category to the entry ban. I feel pleased to see that after ten months of campaigning, the Ministry of Justice of the Netherlands has finally acknowledged that the visit of parents and grandparents is an essential reason for travelling to this country.

However, transnational families where there are no minor (grand)children to visit still face obstacles. They can only reunite if the non-EU family members are fully vaccinated with vaccines accepted by the Netherlands. Their family members cannot visit if they do not have an approved vaccine. This is problematic. A general exemption for first and second-degree family members to visit Dutch nationals or legal residents would be more in line with full recognition of our Right to Family Life.

How did the expat community in the Netherlands react to this news? Do you have an idea of the number of families concerned?

The expat community in the Netherlands is extremely happy with the latest exemption category. For families with minor children, it feels like there has finally been recognition of the right of their children to have contact with their non-EU family members. The first big relief came on May 15th, 2021, with the first exemption category. However, the latest exemption has given many more families the opportunity to reunite. "Families van buiten de EU, wij missen jullie!" is nowadays a community that supports around 1,500 families in the Netherlands.

What are your views on the rights of children and the importance of family in the Netherlands?

During the pandemic, there have been several research projects carried out to monitor children's rights in the Netherlands. The subject has been studied by NGO's, universities, governmental institutions, etc. However, organizations did not take into consideration the situation of children with family members from outside the European Union. Their Right to Family Life seemed to be nonexistent or secondary.

The nuclear family is very important in the Netherlands. However, the importance of extended family seems to be less relevant. This was one of the major issues I encountered during this campaign. For me, my mother is part of my family; for many civil servants and lawyers I spoke to, she is not and, as such, contact with her would not be imperative at all times. This explains why there has been an exemption to the entry ban since July 2020, for couples in a romantic relationship who have been together for at least three months, but not for grandparents to visit their grandchildren or to support their daughters during birth. For me, it seemed incomprehensible that the relationship I have with my mother for over 34 years could not be considered as essential as the relationship of two people who met three months ago.

Did the pandemic have an impact on your family, social and professional life in the Netherlands?

Definitely. I started this campaign due to the pandemic and the measures taken by the Dutch government around it. From a full-time mom, I became a mom who appeared on TV and whose voice was on the radio. Everyone at home needed to get used to me being on my phone every day, calling, posting or answering questions. My daughters were closely involved with the campaign. At the age of five, the oldest ones could recognize the Minister of Justice and Security on TV and helped me choose GIFs for the stories on Instagram. I "met" online many people who were very supportive at different stages of the campaign and even made a couple of friends who I met live after months of virtual contact.

Socially the pandemic and, consequently the campaign, had a huge impact on my relationship with the Netherlands. I had always felt part of Dutch society. I speak Dutch; I respect and celebrate Dutch traditions; I like this country very much and have lived happily here for nine years. However, for months I felt alienated and discriminated against. I could not believe my children and I were being treated as second-class citizens by a country that stands for Equality, No Discrimination and Justice. The gap between social freedom to go back to restaurants, concerts, events, and the prohibition to see your own family was enormous. Not many people could put themselves in my shoes when I talked about my need to see my mother again. I felt like an alien living in a parallel dimension for many months.

How is the Netherlands currently dealing with the pandemic, and what are the restrictions in place?

There are almost no measures currently in place. At certain locations (hotels, bars, restaurants, concerts, festivals), people must show a “Coronavirus Entry Pass” (until November 1st 2021). Opening times are still restricted for all restaurants, bars, cafes and clubs. They must be closed between midnight and 06.00. All types of events are permitted with certain conditions. Schools are open. Facemasks are only compulsory in public transport. However, the entry ban is still in place for travellers who are not vaccinated with a vaccine approved by the Netherlands.

List of approved vaccines:

  • Astra Zeneca EU (Vaxzevria) ;
  • Astra Zeneca - Japan (Vaxzevria);
  • Astra Zeneca - Australia (Vaxzevria);
  • Astra Zeneca-SK Bio (Vaxzevria);
  • Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine - United States of America;
  • Pfizer/BioNTech (Comirnaty);
  • Johnson & Johnson ((COVID-19 Vaccine) Janssen);
  • Moderna (Spikevax);
  • Serum Institute of India (Covishield);
  • Sinopharm BIBP;
  • Sinovac

What would you advise anyone who would like to move to the Netherlands in Covid times?

At the moment, visiting the Netherlands is an issue for people from outside the European Union. Only Dutch nationals or legal residents can obtain a QR-code to activate the “Coronavirus Entry Pass”. This means that tourists can enter the country with their paper proof of vaccination but can encounter trouble while visiting a hotel, restaurant, bar, etc. These locations are obliged to control the Entry Pass. This “green light” can only be given to people vaccinated in the Netherlands (or who have a Dutch BSN number) or who have a negative PCR test (not older than 24 hours ago). Even if vaccinated, people from outside the EU need PCR tests to access certain locations. I hope the Ministry of Health quickly finds a solution for this. If you can enter the country due to your vaccination, then it makes no sense that you cannot enter a hotel like any other vaccinated person in this country.

The Netherlands has not had the strictest policy regarding COVID measures. Nowadays, life is back to normal here.

What are your plans for the future?

For now, we are enjoying the visit of my mother after almost two years of not being able to have her over in the Netherlands. After she leaves, I'll make plans for the future.