The story of Carla

My work is a grey area in which I have to take black-and-white decisions

A foreign national who applies for asylum in the Netherlands can tell their story in different interviews. One of the interview and decision-making staff members sitting on the other side of the table is Carla, a senior staff member at the IND. ‘Each day, I reflect on how much impact my decisions have on the applicants’ lives. That is why it’s important that every decision is taken very carefully.’
Carla
Photo of Carla
My work is a grey area in which I have to take black-and-white decisions

Taking well-considered decisions

One day, she speaks with an asylum seeker who is fleeing from the repressive regime in their country, the next a refugee who is gay and afraid of persecution in his own country. Carla then has the task of asking the right questions and taking a well-considered decision. ‘This is easy once in a while,’ says Carla. ‘But usually difficult. The foreign nationals have to make their asylum account plausible. These are usually grey areas in which you as IND staff must take black-and-white decisions. No one can stay in the Netherlands “for a bit”.’

Many possibilities to be of consequence

By now, Carla has worked for the IND for 8 years already. First at the application desk, later as an interview and decision-making staff member with several specialisations. ‘That is what is nice about the IND,’ says Carla. ‘There are so many possibilities to be of consequence. I haven’t been bored for a single day in all those years. This is because you notice changes in the world almost immediately at the IND. And you have to do something about them. That keeps the work interesting. If I had to carry out the same routine every day, I would quickly be tired of it.’

I am not a police officer

One of Carla’s specialisations is conversion coordinator. She is the contact person for her co-workers in Ter Apel who interview people who have abandoned their religion. They are often afraid of reprisals in their own country. ‘These are very difficult cases,’ she says. ‘The foreign national in question must make plausible why he or she would be eligible for asylum because of his or her religious convictions. In this context, I have to keep in mind that many people make up a story to be able to stay in the Netherlands. So the interviews are a bit of truth finding, during which I certainly ask critical questions. But I am not a police officer. That is also why it’s called an interview – not an interrogation.’

I assess whether a story is credible

Does she find it difficult to reject an application? ‘No,’ she says matter-of-factly. ‘I simply adhere to laws and regulations. I assess whether or not a story is credible, and whether someone is then eligible for a permit. Naturally, there is room for the human dimension and I take someone’s personal story into consideration. And I feel good about the fact that, at the IND, a legal representative always has a final look at my decisions. And afterwards the judge. This doesn’t mean that I don’t feel responsible for the decisions I take, but I know that I don’t stand alone.’

The least I can do

As soon as Carla gets a file in her name, she tries to reach a well-considered decision as soon as possible. ‘I prefer not to leave people in uncertainty one day more than needed. Whether I grant or reject an application: I think that uncertainty is one of the worst things for foreign nationals. And make no mistake; sometimes they are lured to the Netherlands with the nicest stories, only to end up here in an austere reception centre and sluggish asylum process. That does something to people. Then the least I can do is to take quick and careful decisions.’

We discuss dilemmas with one another

What if Carla has doubts about an application? ‘Then I always consult with my co-workers. Discussing dilemmas with one another is very important in this profession. Each case is different. We have laws and guidelines, but sometimes it’s still difficult to take a decision. Because besides the law, we mustn’t forget about the human dimension.’ She looks back at a case that came back from the court last year. ‘According to the court, the IND had not taken the rejection decision on the right grounds. A new decision had to be taken, which meant that the foreign national also had to be interviewed again. When this woman was sitting across from me, I found that her story came across as very sincere and consistent. At the end of the interview I could already tell her that she would get a permit and was therefore allowed to stay in the Netherlands. I will never forget her reaction. It was one of those rare moments that I couldn’t keep my own eyes dry.’

A meaningful feeling

Carla sometimes feels ashamed of the long waiting times at the IND. ‘We work so hard here. And nevertheless, the staff shortage and high influx of asylum seekers often result in events overtaking us. I know that I can’t do much about this myself. But still: I am also complaints coordinator and I hear myself at times making the same excuses to a lawyer as before. This makes me feel bad. At the same time, I consider the IND a splendid organisation with exceptionally motivated people. A place where everyone can learn a lot and where there are numerous possibilities to develop yourself. With a meaningful feeling as a bonus.’