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Competition, distrust and imposed invisibility: frictions within the refugee solidarity movement in Rotterdam
In response to the visibility of people who are recognized as refugees and try to settle in in new cities in the Netherlands, grassroots initiatives that aim to care for these refugees and to help them in navigating their new life, multiply. In attempts to secure funding and to establish partnerships, initiatives reach out to the city administration, to each other, and to residents that act as informal advisors. Balancing between ‘welcome’ and ‘deterrence’, the city administration in turn embraces the opportunity to externalize the responsibility to manage refugee reception to non-state actors. At the same time, however, policy targets and matching funding opportunities for grassroots initiatives shape the initiatives’ missions and mandates. Drawing on ethnographic research in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, this paper studies the frictions within this arena of refugee reception. It does so by attending to the case of Josefien, a resident that founded a platform to signal solidarity with recognized refugees. She helps nascent grassroots initiatives that are affiliated with this platform through their start-up phase and thereby attempts to resist exclusionary urban policies towards accepted refugees and those wanting to help them. Behind her back, however, Josefien is under attack, as she is accused of pushing her own agenda. Moreover, competing initiatives all make use of Josefien’s advice, which intensifies distrust between the initiatives and weakens the coalition of solidarity. This paper emphasizes the cracks within the refugee solidarity movement and the contentious politics that undercut local border making.