The migrant is an individual

What was at first the solution has now turned into a problem: migrant groups who continue to have contacts with their country of origin. Historian Nadia Bouras has studied 50 years of involvement of Moroccans with their motherland. She urges us to ‘see the migrant as an individual.' Defence 27 November.

Three players: the government, the organisation and the migrant

'Het land van herkomst' will be published in December 2012

'Het land van herkomst' will be published in December 2012

Bouras studied developments in Morocco and in Dutch policy between 1960 and 2012, as well as the changes in the lives of the migrants themselves during this same period. In the 1970s, migrant groups were granted subsidies by the Dutch government for their own organisations, their traditions, rituals and celebrations. The Dutch government encouraged migrants to maintain ties with their country of origin, to which they were expected to eventually return. In the 1990s, this separate identity and culture turned out to have provided neither a solution for social disadvantage nor a springboard for integration. On the contrary, a separate identity was seen as the cause of social disadvantage and therefore the problem of a failed multicultural society.

Rich and poor, man and woman

For her study, Bouras not only included the political situation of those times, but also the current vision on the ties of migrants with Morocco, but without falling hostage to the current debate, in which solidarity with the country of origin is seen as a serious problem. She also looked at differences in social class. For example, maintaining close ties with the country of origin is an expensive business; migrants with a small budget cannot travel to Morocco so often or send money on a regular basis. There are also differences between men and women as far as interest in Morocco is concerned. Women come from a disadvantaged position and tend to focus on a better life in the Netherlands. Here they can catch up and become more visible in society. On the other hand, the men who lost their jobs in the mass unemployment of the 1980s try to compensate for their loss of status by turning towards Morocco or their own organisations.

Shrugging off responsibility

Since the 1990s, the ties with the country of origin and the migrants’ own culture are no longer encouraged but challenged. ‘Turning these ties into a problem makes it possible to shrug off the responsibility,’ explains Bouras further. ‘Maintaining ties is then the migrants’ choice. If integration fails as a result, that means it is also their choice. The Dutch government or society as a whole do not need to do anything: the migrants themselves should do their best to integrate, and they should do so by breaking ties with their country of origin.’

With today’s knowledge

Bouras would like to tell migrants to ignore the heated political debate. Politicians on the other hand should take history a little more seriously, for instance to help them develop a long-term vision. And Bouras would like to give an urgent message to migrant organisations: ‘Stop that group-oriented thinking! It no longer suits the times, and besides it misses the point. Because then it’s again about culture, whereas there are great differences within migrant groups. Individuals, that’s what it’s all about.’

(20 November 2012/ MvG)

Nadia Bouras

Nadia Bouras

Defence Nadia Bouras
'Het Land van Herkomst, Perspectieven op verbondenheid met Marokko, 1960-2010'

Thesis director: Marlou Schrover
Date: Tuesday 27 november 2012
Start: 13:45
Faculty: Humanities
Location: Academy building, Rapenburg 73, 2311 GJ Leiden

See also

Global Interaction of Civilizations and Languages is one of the six profile themes of research at Leiden University.

Studying in Leiden

History (in Dutch)


Last Modified: 13-12-2012