The emergency reception of asylum seekers is the numerous crisis in a short time that also affects Brabant. The need is so great that the national government forces municipalities to take in asylum seekers temporarily. As a local official, how do you get your residents on board? There is little information available to municipalities and the time pressure is high. “This makes good communication critical,” says Kenny Meisters of Tilburg University.
“Tomorrow, the COA (Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers) may appear. The groups are unenviable. When usually months or years are available to prepare citizens for changes, now it is a matter of hours and days.”
As a researcher, Misters has immersed himself in crisis communication. Whether it’s purchasing power, reducing nitrogen or receiving asylum seekers. These are different problems with different interests, but the pattern remains the same. How do you, as a local government, talk to your citizens? How do you convince your residents of the chosen policy, social significance and the way to deal with such a crisis?
Mesters: “The city council has to take into account two things. Citizens’ sympathy and how they feel about it, and factual information. Explain what is going on and what is about to happen.”
“People think of themselves first, that sounds a bit selfish but it’s totally normal.”
First the sympathy of the concerned resident. According to Meesters, this mainly consists of circles. “People think of themselves first, that sounds a bit selfish but it is totally normal. So he will ask: What does dealing with a crisis mean to me?
Then comes the nearest circle, what does that mean for the safety of my children, the value of my home, my family, my friends, the neighborhood, the village, the country. Circles, just like sharing, widen and widen.”
As a personal example, he remembers the summer of 2021 well. Limburg was flooded after heavy rain and Meesters was particularly concerned about his family living on the banks of the Maas River. Only then did the slight concerns about his friends in Maastricht follow. “This is how you work.”
Therefore, it makes no sense for governments to invoke the international refugee treaty or national rules. Then it works from the outside in and does not reach the citizens. Explain what that means to each person personally.”
“You only need one bad apple in the basket to spoil the atmosphere.”
In his opinion, it is particularly useful for municipalities to provide knowledge and factual information. “How many asylum seekers are coming from? Where do they come from? How long do they stay? Give clear answers. This balances the personal view of the citizens and their shared experiences. You only need one bad apple in the basket to spoil the atmosphere. You can silence those negative feelings with facts. However, this is not always possible.”
Because this personal view, Meesters admits, is very diverse. Municipalities should beware of a normative approach. Seniors may need an informational evening at a community center. It is easy to deal with young people online. “Use multiple tracks, feel the mood with different sensations.”
“You can’t argue about everything.”
Mesters argues that citizens need to be in control. They like to influence the process, especially near the house. They want to talk about enforcement.
“You can’t discuss everything. Often you are bound by regulations. For example, we all agreed to reduce the number of dead and injured road users by using traffic lights. That’s for sure. But you can allow citizens to participate in the discussion about how long the traffic light should be red. .use this creative thinking space to go along with a neighborhood or business club.”
“Total coffee specialist. Hardcore reader. Incurable music scholar. Web guru. Freelance troublemaker. Problem solver. Travel trailblazer.”