Pedro Andrade (86) removes two large folders with papers and puts a brown leather box on the table. He flips the lid back and a golden Federation of Dutch Trade Unions (FNV) pin appears. “I got this when I was a member for fifty years,” he says. The retiree, who came from Cape Verde as a guest worker in the 1980s and worked for years in the Rotterdam steel industry, clutches a thick Dutch-Portuguese dictionary that is held together with large pieces of duct tape.

A quarter of the elderly in ‘refugee countries’ live years below the social minimum

Andrade opens the book. The words ‘valuable’, ‘worthy’ and ‘dignity’ jump off the page because of all the underlining and notes Andrade has added in red. Pointing to the words, he says, “I have no more life.” Two years ago, a judge’s verdict reached Andrade’s doormat. His energy provider had sued him for late payments. The judge found Andrade guilty and had to return hundreds of euros. “Of nothing!” he says. “I never had a summons!”

The article continues under the photo.

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Dutch dictionary by Pedro Andrades.


Image by:
Tengbeh Kamara

Andrade managed to settle his arrears in payment, but then he still had to pay the bailiff’s expenses. A debt of almost three thousand euros, of which there are now just under two thousand euros. Andrade does not know where those costs come from. He leans forward from his chair. “All my life I have done everything I had to do. And now I’m getting dirty.”

This is the first part of a diptych on older immigrants living in poverty in the Netherlands. The parts can be read independently of each other. They appeared as an article in December 2022 in OneWorld Magazine. The article was made possible in part by the Support Fund for Independent Journalists.

700 euro per month

Research by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) shows that older people with a non-Western migration background, like Andrade, are up to ten times more likely to live in poverty than older people without a migration background. By 2022, Statistics Netherlands calculated that, on average, one in four over 55s from ‘refugee countries’ (such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq) will live for years on an income below the social minimum, or less than €1,266. per month. The same applies to about one in five older people in Morocco, Turkey and China and one in eight older people in Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles. By way of comparison: only one in fifty older people without a migration history lives for a long time below the social minimum.

Stichting Ik Wil-employees1 Esra and Ziya Altmis, mother and son, call the so-called state pension gap the main cause of the financial problems of older migrants. If you live in the Netherlands, you accumulate entitlements that give you access to a basic income under the General Old-Age Pensions Act (AOW) from the age of 67. This should prevent the elderly in the Netherlands from living in poverty. If you continue to live in the Netherlands all your life, you will have 100 percent state pension rights from the age of 67 and will receive around 1,260 euros per month. But people who have lived abroad for years or who come to the Netherlands at a later age accumulate fewer entitlements and therefore receive a lower basic income. This so-called ‘AOW gap’ often occurs among immigrant seniors, who are rapidly losing hundreds of euros a month as a result.

During the last twenty years, various researchers have repeatedly described the extra precarious situation of older migrants. Despite this, little happened to turn the tide. Otherwise. Benefits have been reduced in recent years, says the National Client Council (LCR), an organization that advocates for people who receive benefits. All kinds of income support measures, such as special assistance for unexpected and unforeseen costs, are also clearly granted less frequently. Meanwhile, the purchasing power of older immigrants has been declining for years, according to Statistics Netherlands. And the group that suffers from this problem is only growing. Lucía Lameiro García from the Network of Organizations of Migrant Older People (NOOM) assumes that the number of older migrants will triple in the next 25 years. Figures from Statistics Netherlands confirm this picture.

Over time

For decades, Andrade had a good life. At the age of 34 he came to the Netherlands from Cape Verde as a guest worker. He went to work in the metal industry in Rotterdam and worked, among other things, as a packer and cleaner at the Nedstaal steel company. Since he worked as many overtime hours as possible, he earned well. Pay stubs from the 1980s show that he received around 3,200 guilders a month. Enough to support him, his wife, and his child.

Even as a pensioner, his life was fine. It is true that her pension was surprisingly low, around 125 euros a month for someone who had worked for more than thirty years. And she did not receive a full state pension because she had spent part of her adult life in Cape Verde. But with the support of the ‘additional income provision for the elderly’ (AIO) – assistance for the elderly – she managed to survive in recent years, now as a single person.

With the help of a home care worker, Andrade mapped out exactly what had happened with the energy provider. Between 2018 and 2020, his annual energy costs tripled, while the annual down payment he had to pay dropped by hundreds of euros. Where previously he had money left over at the end of the year, Andrade racked up late payments in 2018 and 2019. He says he hasn’t heard anything about it.

The verdict gave Andrade a trustee and he lost control of his money. With his incomplete AOW, AIO supplement, and inadequate pension, he was already living on income below the welfare level. That’s strange, because in theory the AIO supplements your income to the social minimum, but since the verdict Andrade’s financial situation has become even more difficult. He could no longer afford his healthcare premium and was forced to cancel his supplementary insurance, which means he now has to pay for medical pedicures and dental treatment himself. Travel is no longer an option and he can no longer afford meat for Cape Verdean cachupa food, one of his favorites.

The article continues under the photo.

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Pedro Andrade now has a little less than two thousand euros in debt.


Image by:
Tengbeh Kamara

Assistance to the elderly

In principle, the AOW gap can be closed with the AIO, assistance for the elderly. But due to language barriers, cultural differences and poor digital skills, many migrant seniors are unable to find their way through the maze of online government rules and services. As a result, you miss out on facilities that could ease your financial burden, such as the AIO.

Due to language barriers and poor digital skills, many migrant seniors are unable to find their way to government services online.

Stichting Ik Wil notices that during walk-in consultation hours, more and more older immigrants are worried about their income. People like Amino Abukar Mukthar (67), who has received a state pension for two years. Since he came to the Netherlands from Somalia when he was 54 years old, his basic pension is much lower. He has an income of seven hundred euros a month. Mukthar lives with her daughter and his granddaughter. She pays the rent, her daughter the food. “We save my daughter’s vacation allowance for when we can’t make ends meet for a month,” she says.

Andrade now still has a debt of just under two thousand euros for the expenses of the bailiff’s agency, which he must pay. His home supervisor tries to find out where the costs are coming from, but he only has one hour a week to himself. Maybe something went wrong because of the language barrier? The question feeds the fire. “I understand everything,” he says, pointing to his dictionary.

The Rotterdam court cannot rule on an individual case, but it stated in response to Pedro Andrade’s account: “If someone does not appear at the hearing, the judge reviews all kinds of procedures to determine if someone should have been informed of the situation. session. If that is the case, the court can decide to hear the case in absentia (that is, without the person who has been summoned)”. The court also recognizes the negative impact of sheriff’s costs on someone’s debt. She indicates that she has several projects underway to help people with this.

You read the first part of a diptych about older immigrants living in poverty in the Netherlands.

Parts of this diptych appeared in December 2022 as an article in OneWorld Magazine. A version of that article was mistakenly published in the magazine in which the reactions of the LCR and Stichting Ik Wil were not included. In this diptych some inaccuracies that had crept into the piece as a result have been corrected.

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Conscription: do you have to die for the Netherlands?

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  1. Stichting Ik Wil is an organization in Eindhoven that runs a community center with around 100 volunteers where visitors can receive sewing, painting and language lessons, as well as practical help with financial matters. ↩︎