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Afghans in the Netherlands


Afghans in the Netherlands

Afghans in the Netherlands
Total population
42,348 (2013)[1]
Dari, Pashto[2]

Afghans in the Netherlands form one of Europe's larger Afghan diaspora communities.[4]


  • Migration history 1
  • Demographic characteristics 2
  • Integration and community 3
  • Health issues 4
  • References 5
    • Notes 5.1
    • Sources 5.2
  • Further reading 6

Migration history

Afghan refugees began flowing into the Netherlands in the late 1980s, fleeing violence in their homeland.[4] In the decade up to 2002, the Netherlands was the second-most popular destination in Europe for Afghan asylum-seekers, behind Germany; they made up more than 20% of the total of roughly 170,000 applications for asylum filed by Afghans in Europe.[4] The Dutch government settled them in a variety of areas with the policy aim of preventing the formation of large immigrant communities in the cities.[4]

As a result of the increasing inflow of asylum-seekers, the Dutch government set up a war crimes investigation unit in the late 1990s; the first refugees they charged with war crimes were Heshamuddin Hesam and Habibulla Jalalzoy, both former members of the Afghan intelligence service KHAD during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan. Their presence, when it became known, evoked a great deal of unrest and fear among the Netherlands' Afghan community.[5] Charged with abusing prisoners in a 2005 trial, they received sentences of 12 and 9 years in prison, respectively.[6]

In 2003, the Netherlands signed a voluntary repatriation agreement with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the transitional government of Afghanistan, recognising the right of Afghan refugees in the Netherlands to return to Afghanistan and establishing procedures.[7] However, by 2007, only 800 had returned; most refugees feel that public safety, women's rights, and educational conditions in Afghanistan are insufficient. Young people who choose to return may also encounter language difficulties, as they exhibit language shift towards Dutch and away from Dari.[8]

Demographic characteristics

As of 2011, statistics of the Dutch Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek with regards to people of Afghan origin showed:

  • 31,823 persons of first-generation background (17,238 men, 14,585 women)
  • 8,241 persons of second-generation background (4,244 men, 3,997 women), of which:
    • 361 persons with one parent born in the Netherlands (185 men, 176 women)
    • 7,880 persons with both parents born outside the Netherlands (4,059 men, 3,821 women)

For a total of 40,064 persons (21,482 men, 18,582 women). This represented more than eight times the 1996 total of 4,916 persons. The proportion of persons of second-generation background increased from 7.7% to 21% over the same period; the rest of the growth was due to immigration. 2010 was the first year since 2003 that population growth by immigration exceeded population growth by natural increase.[9] As with other migrant ethnic groups, their age structure is skewed towards young people—90% are younger than 45, a similar proportion to Turkish, Iranian, and Somali migrants, but much higher than the equivalent figure of 60% in the native Dutch population.[10]

Integration and community

Afghan migrants to the Netherlands have founded roughly 130 different associations, mostly aimed at maintaining Afghan culture in the Netherlands and providing charitable assistance—especially materials like blankets, food, and furniture—to people and non-governmental organisations in Afghanistan.[8] Afghans form a relatively heterogeneous group both socially and ethnically, with representation of speakers of various

  • Van Ham, Carolien (2003), Migration Decision-making? A Social Psychological Model of Return Migration of Refugees: The case of Afghans in the Netherlands, M.Sc. dissertation, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Utrecht 

Further reading

  • Tripartite Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the Netherlands, the Transitional Islamic State of Afghanistan, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2003-03-18, retrieved 2009-06-03 
  • Hessels, Thomas; Wassie, Fatma (2003), Afghanen in Nederland, een profiel, The Hague, Netherlands: Ministry of Justice, retrieved 2009-06-03 
  • Feldmann, C. Titia; Bensing, Jozien; de Ruijter, Arie; Boeije, Hennie R. (2007), "Afghan refugees in The Netherlands and their general practitioners: to trust or not to trust?", Sociology of Health and Illness 29 (4): 515–535,  
  • Population by origin and generation, 1 January, The Hague: Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, 2009-03-11, retrieved 2012-05-20 


  1. ^ CBS 2011
  2. ^ Feldmann et al. 2007, p. 517
  3. ^ Feldmann et al. 2007, p. 518
  4. ^ a b c d e f Hessels & Wassie 2003, p. 22
  5. ^ Simons, Marlise (2005-09-29), "2 Afghans Face Dutch War-Crimes Charges From 80's Soviet Era", The New York Times, retrieved 2009-06-03 
  6. ^ Simons, Marlise (2005-10-15), "The Netherlands: Prison for Afghan War Crimes", The New York Times, retrieved 2009-06-03 
  7. ^ UNHCR 2003
  8. ^ a b Sujan, Dheera (2007-11-08), "Afghans in the Netherlands", Radio Netherlands, archived from the original on 2009-05-27, retrieved 2009-06-03 
  9. ^ CBS 2011; the year 1996 is earliest for which data is available online
  10. ^ Hessels & Wassie 2003, p. 20
  11. ^ Hessels & Wassie 2003, p. 27
  12. ^ Hessels & Wassie 2003, p. 49
  13. ^ Feldmann et al. 2007, p. 520



Stress-related illnesses are common among migrants of Afghan background, due to a variety of causes including war, separation from relatives, and uncertainty about their future due to economic and residency permission issues.[12] Differences in the health care systems of Afghanistan and the Netherlands have proven confusing to some refugees. The general practitioner plays a far more important role in the Dutch system.[4] In contrast, in the Afghan system, patients often bypass their family doctor—or in rural areas, village herbalist—to consult specialists in urban areas directly.[13] Mistrust of Dutch doctors is common, possibly stemming from Afghans migrants' general feeling of social exclusion.[4]

Health issues


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