Half of refugee households at risk of poverty

In 2016, more than half of all households in the Netherlands with people from refugee countries had an income below the low-income threshold. This is over six times the average. Of all Syrian refugee households, more than three-quarters were living on a low income. The poverty risk was highest among Eritrean migrant households: 83 percent. Statistics Netherlands (CBS) reports these figures in a new edition of its annual report on poverty and social exclusion.


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Households with a Somali main breadwinner were relatively vulnerable, with 62 percent dependent on a low income. The majority of households with a Syrian, Somali or Eritrean background had income support as the main income source. Households from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran were also at a relatively high risk of poverty.

Low income in refugee households often persistent

Households with a main breadwinner from Eritrea or Somalia are most likely to have a persistently low income. Furthermore, one-quarter of the Iraqi or Syrian background households live on low incomes for a prolonged amount of time. However, long-term dependence on low income applies to Syrian or Eritrean background households in a limited number of cases: altogether 1,200 households. Of all households in the Netherlands in 2016, an average 3.3 percent had been dependent on a low income for at least four consecutive years.

Income and income support among households, by (migration) background, 2016* (%)
 Low incomePersistently low incomeIncome support
Total Netherlands8.23.35.7
Total non-western26.312.721.1
Surinam 17.57.814.9
Turkey22.510.614.8
Former Dutch Antilles25.112.120.1
Morocco28.71521.9
Iran34.319.630.3
Afghanistan38.120.832
Syria76.724.977.9
Iraq45.428.542.5
Eritrea83.340.984
Somalia60.243.163
Other non-western24.712.317.9

In 2016, almost 30 percent of all households with a Moroccan background main breadwinner were at risk of poverty. This share is higher than among households with a Turkish, Antillean or Surinamese background, the other three largest non-Western population groups in the Netherlands. Long-term dependence on low income as well was most common among households with a Moroccan migration background. The labour participation rate is relatively high among people with a Surinamese background; vulnerability to poverty was therefore lowest among this group, namely 18 percent. In addition, dependence on low income was least likely to be long-term among this group.

Poverty risk above average among Eastern European households

Dependence on low income is less common among households of German, Belgian, British or Indonesian origin compared to households with a Polish, Bulgarian or Romanian background. Migrant workers from Eastern Europe generally perform low-skilled work, while migrants from Western Europe are often (highly educated) knowledge workers. At 36 percent, Bulgarian background households are relatively vulnerable to poverty. Moreover, poverty is relatively often persistent among this group, similar to households with a Romanian migration background. The size of these groups is nevertheless relatively small in the Netherlands: around 2 in every 1,000 households have a Bulgarian or Romanian background.

Income among households with western (migration) background, 2016* (%)
 Low incomePersistently low incomeIncome from workRetirement income
Total6.12.362.226.1
Netherlands5.62.160.930.2
Germany6.62.841.948.7
Belgium7.63.253.935.7
Indonesia8.13.461.626.8
UK9.13.971.617
Poland12.74.4854.8
Romania18.97.284.25.7
Bulgaria31.510.9852.4
Other western14.16.971.713.6

Second generation less often on low incomes

The risk of poverty is substantially lower in second-generation households with a main breadwinner of non-western origin than among the first generation. On average, the second generation are better educated and thus enjoy better job opportunities.
During the economic crisis, the risk of poverty increased the most among non-western background households, with the first generation more prone to live in poverty than the second. The risk of poverty also declined more substantially among this group in the wake of economic recovery starting 2014. On average, non-western migrant groups are relatively young. They more often work in flexible jobs, which means they are more likely to lose their job in economically difficult times. The economic climate therefore plays an important part in their exposure to poverty.
Whereas the average poverty risk declined in the Netherlands starting 2014, it increased for households with a Syrian or Eritrean background. Most refugees from these countries applied for income support as soon as they obtained a residence permit. Combined with the large influx from these countries during the refugee crisis, the share of low income households surged among these groups in particular.

Low income households by (migration) background (%)
 DutchWesternFirst-generation non-westernSecond-generation non-western
20114.89.223.816.3
20125.510.628.618.9
20136.111.731.720.7
20145.811.130.420.3
20155.710.328.519.6
2016*5.610.128.218.9