Reflections on the Humanitarian Logistics for Refugees in the Netherlands from Three Perspectives

Maslow, Max-Neef, and Dooyeweerd

In: Philosophia Reformata
Christine Boshuijzen-van BurkenEindhoven University of Technology, Eindhoven, The Netherlands,

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Roelien GoedeNorth-West University, Potchefstroom, Republic of South Africa,

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Attie van NiekerkUniversity of Pretoria, Pretoria, Republic of South Africa,

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The world currently faces the highest number in recorded history of people fleeing from war and violence. Refugee-hosting countries in the western part of the world experience the effects of global issues more than ever and face dealing with humanitarian logistics for refugees on an unprecedented scale. These countries continuously optimize their policies regarding refugees by navigating between obligations toward the Geneva Refugee Treaty, manageability of the situation, and worries of their citizens voiced through public opinion. The issue can be considered a wicked problem because of its unpredictability, complexity, and global scale. Presuppositions about human flourishing affect the interpretation of well-being in refugee policies. In this article, we reflect on refugees’ experiences with Dutch asylum policies, analyzing these experiences through the theoretical lenses of Abraham Maslow, Manfred Max-Neef, and Herman Dooyeweerd. We learn from Maslow the importance of providing information for the satisfaction of basic needs; from Max-Neef we learn that, with the sole exception of the need for subsistence (that is, to remain alive), all fundamental needs are equally important; and from Dooyeweerd we learn that trust, though often overlooked, is important for refugee well-being.


The world currently faces the highest number in recorded history of people fleeing from war and violence. Refugee-hosting countries in the western part of the world experience the effects of global issues more than ever and face dealing with humanitarian logistics for refugees on an unprecedented scale. These countries continuously optimize their policies regarding refugees by navigating between obligations toward the Geneva Refugee Treaty, manageability of the situation, and worries of their citizens voiced through public opinion. The issue can be considered a wicked problem because of its unpredictability, complexity, and global scale. Presuppositions about human flourishing affect the interpretation of well-being in refugee policies. In this article, we reflect on refugees’ experiences with Dutch asylum policies, analyzing these experiences through the theoretical lenses of Abraham Maslow, Manfred Max-Neef, and Herman Dooyeweerd. We learn from Maslow the importance of providing information for the satisfaction of basic needs; from Max-Neef we learn that, with the sole exception of the need for subsistence (that is, to remain alive), all fundamental needs are equally important; and from Dooyeweerd we learn that trust, though often overlooked, is important for refugee well-being.

1 Introduction

The world currently faces an increasing movement of people fleeing for war and violence. There are no signs that the stream of refugees will decrease in the foreseeable future. Deterrence policies, Turkeydeals, investments in regional (i.e., countries that neighbor conflict zones) initiatives, and the building of walls are Western countries’ attempts to tame the so-called wicked problem of the refugee crisis. The effects of global refugee streams manifest themselves most tellingly at the local level, in particular in the arrangements of humanitarian logistics for refugees in hosting countries.

Many refugee-hosting countries—for example, the Netherlands—have experienced various challenges in the field of humanitarian logistics for refugees, especially during the period of high influx of asylum seekers in 2015. In this paper, we understand the concept of logistics broadly as including both the organization of concrete logistical matters such as housing, transport, and daily activities and the various steps in the asylum procedure that asylum seekers go through until they obtain refugee status.

We will here discuss the case of the Netherlands. Several parties serve asylum seekers in the humanitarian logistics process, such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service (ind), the Central Agency for the Housing of Asylum Seekers (coa), and various social or voluntary organizations, such as Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland (vwn). Although the Netherlands, and many other countries, do their utmost to keep the logistics process in order, there are several challenges and risks, such as that refugees become demotivated and de-skilled (Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion 2017) or that hosting countries lose societal goodwill because they support refugees (Oltermann 2016).

It is therefore essential that the logistical process goes well. But what exactly does good mean when we speak of a good refugee logistics? We explore this question further in light of interviews that we held with refugees in the Netherlands in 2017. In these interviews, we asked them which problems they had experienced in the asylum procedure from the moment of their arrival in the Netherlands to their receiving of the key to their social housing after they’d been granted asylum. We explicitly take refugee well-being as an important assumption of good refugee logistics. There are many theories of well-being (e.g., Aristotle; Kahneman, Diener, and Schwarz 1999; Smith [1776] 2007; Sen 1999; Nussbaum 2001; Doyal and Gough 1991). It is not our aim here to give an overview of well-being theories—what we have in mind is an intuitive understanding of human well-being. Our assumption is that decisions about refugee logistics impact the well-being of refugees, for better or worse. Policy decisions regarding humanitarian logistics for refugees often focus on satisfaction of basic human needs, such as food and shelter. In the Netherlands, in line with guidelines from the European Committee of Social Rights (2013), priority goes to “bed, bath, and bread.” While this is a commendable way to assist people who have fled their homes due to war and violence, we will show how a more nuanced approach may contribute even more to the well-being of refugees.

In this article we show how policy decisions may be inspired by assumptions about human needs and values. Different theories of basic human needs and values have evolved over the past decades. A well-known theoretical framework is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, which is often visualized as a pyramid. A known critique of Maslow is Manfred Max-Neef’s theory which distinguishes between human needs and satisfiers and does not assume a hierarchy of needs, as in Maslow. We address a third model of human functioning based on Herman Dooyeweerd’s idea of the aspectuality of reality. We interpret empirical data about refugees’ experience of humanitarian logistics, gathered in the Netherlands, through the lenses of the aforementioned theoretical models about human functioning: Maslow’s theory of basic human needs (1943), Max-Neef’s theory of human-scale development (1991), and Dooyeweerdian aspectual analysis (1953–1958, volume 2).

2 The Refugee Crisis as a Wicked Problem

Refugees have been from all times and all places; however, there has recently been a steady increase of displaced persons worldwide. As of 30 June 2018, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (unhcr) reported a total population of people on the run from war and violence of 70.4 million people. During the first half of 2018, at least 5.2 million people were newly displaced, and few people could return to their home country due to ongoing hostilities in Syria, for instance, and increasing problems in South America. The globally displaced population included 20.2 million refugees under unhcr’s mandate1 and 3.2 million asylum seekers.2 According to international conventions such as the Geneva Refugee Treaty of 1951, asylum seekers are people who flee their home country due to war or violence and who have to request protection in another country. After a successful asylum application, refugee status is obtained and the refugee can live in the hosting country, often for several years, initially. The term refugee formally denotes a legal status; however, in the remainder of this article, it is used to refer to people who are either externally displaced—who have not (yet) registered in the hosting country—or in the process of requesting asylum.

The fact that there are ecological and economical refugees among the people who flee from war and violence is a symptom of larger global problems. Problems related to refugee situations can be classified as wicked problems. Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber used this term in relation to planning in social policy, an area in which a purely scientific-engineering approach cannot be applied because of the lack of a clear problem definition and differing perspectives of stakeholders (Rittel and Webber 1973). It had been used by West Churchman a few years earlier, in an essay in which he pointed out the blind spots in the morality of the profession of managers and proposed “to discuss in which manners our solutions have failed to tame his wicked problems” (1967, xx). One of the characteristics of wicked problems that is applicable to the refugee situation is that the problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem. In the local context of Western countries such as European countries, Australia, and America, it is not just a matter of trying to handle the stream of refugees but also a matter of stopping outbreaks of violence and war elsewhere in the world. A solution cannot be easily found, and a global or local focus on the problem will not be sufficient for mitigating the situation. Western countries will probably increasingly experience the global effects of their national and international policies, and it will not always be for the better.

At a microlevel, there are problems that occur during the phase in which refugees are applying for asylum and are in the vulnerable position of belonging nowhere. In this phase, they can easily become the victim of protracted infringement of rights due to complex bureaucratic systems or changing rules and norms while legal options for asylum requests are being sorted out. Refugees then run the risk of falling in between systems.

Policy makers who work on the managing of refugee issues often state that one of the most difficult tasks for them is working with uncertainty in planning and prognoses in terms of numbers and the time of refugee influx.3 The number of and the moment at which refugees arrive in a hosting country depend on outbreaks of violence elsewhere in the world, weather conditions, policy adjustments in neighboring countries, and many other (sometimes arbitrary and unpredictable) factors. Novel technologies such as geographic information systems in combination with big data and social media give rise to new ways of predicting refugee streams, suggesting that the wicked problem can be tamed if our technologies become sophisticated enough so we can know what to expect and thus manage and control the situation for the public good. However, according to Rittel and Webber, the search for scientific bases for confronting problems of social policy is bound to fail because of the nature of these problems.

What they saw in the previous era still holds today: “On the one hand, there is the belief in the ‘makeability,’ or unrestricted malleability, of future history by means of the planning intellect—by reasoning, rational discourse, and civilized negotiation. At the same time, there are vocal proponents of the ‘feeling approach,’ of compassionate engagement and dramatic action” (Rittel and Webber 1973, 158).

For policies regarding refugee logistics, a similar situation exists: on the one hand, there is a desire to manage the refugee logistics in a technical manner, and this includes engaging in a societal discourse by focusing on rational arguments and presenting numbers derived from academic research regarding the societal effects of refugees on a hosting country. On the other hand, there are laypeople’s concerns about a “tsunami of refugees” (Keulemans 2015) and a sudden rise of refugee relief initiatives in refugee-hosting and transit countries,4 indicating compassionate engagement.

In short, the problem of refugee logistics is wicked on two levels. On the macrolevel, it is part of a global problem that is deeply connected to issues of human well-being and justice and has environmental, economic, political, and religious roots that are interwoven. Such global problems cannot be solved easily by one or more actors. Furthermore, we understand injustice as a symptom of a “broken reality” that can only be partially undone by concrete actions of humans. Secondly, humanitarian logistics for refugees is a wicked problem on a local level: on the one hand, there is an international obligation to host refugees and a moral obligation to do this in a good manner, focusing on their well-being, while on the other hand there is a potential danger that some policy measurements will act like a pull factor, attracting more refugees or migrants from safe countries (Jakubiak 2019).

The theoretical lenses that we use here are not meant to solve the wicked problems but to show how assumptions about human behavior and reality in general may lead to different interpretations and prioritizations of problems and thus lead to different policies. We reflect on problems regarding humanitarian logistics for refugees, as expressed by refugees, through three theoretical lenses: (1) Maslow’s theory of basic human needs, (2) Max-Neef’s model of human-scale development, and (3) Dooyeweerd’s theory of the multi-aspectuality of reality.

3 Three Approaches to Human Well-Being

We consider three approaches to human well-being in order to understand the relationship between humanitarian logistics and refugee well-being. We selected three authors who are representative of the different theoretical lenses that we use to analyze our data. We’ve chosen these theoretical frameworks because Maslow’s theory of basic human needs resembles the view that “bed, bath, and bread” is a minimum requirement in refugee logistics. We’ve chosen Max-Neef because he is a known critic of Maslow and represents an alternative, more dynamic view. We introduce Dooyeweerd because he is known for his nonreductionist approach to understanding reality, which is helpful in this complex issue of refugee logistics. Maslow presents a needs approach to human well-being, Max-Neef gives an alternative needs approach to human well-being, and Dooyeweerd presents a whole-of-life approach to human well-being.

Maslow argues that human needs can be categorized into different levels where the needs on each level are accentuated as the needs on the previous level are satisfied. He states (1943, 370):

Human needs arrange themselves in hierarchies of pre-potency. That is to say, the appearance of one need usually rests on the prior satisfaction of another, more pre-potent need. Man is a perpetually wanting animal. Also no need or drive can be treated as if it were isolated or discrete; every drive is related to the state of satisfaction or dissatisfaction of other drives.

Other researchers have found empirical data which conflict with Maslow’s approach. For example, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo (2012) found that the poor worldwide tend to spend money on things that make their lives more pleasant and less boring rather than buy better or, even, more food, especially if they don’t expect things to become better in future.

A known critique of Maslow’s needs hierarchy is Max-Neef (1991). Max-Neef’s needs theory is based on nine needs, or values: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, creation, idleness, identity, and freedom. Transcendence could possibly be a tenth need. Max-Neef deviates from Maslow in that he differentiates between needs and satisfiers (Max-Neef 1991, 19):

First: Fundamental human needs are finite, few and classifiable. Second: Fundamental human needs [such as those contained in the system proposed] are the same in all cultures and all historical periods. What changes, both over time and through cultures, is the form or the means by which these needs are satisfied.

A need does not have to be satisfied, or actualized, by others only—a need is the motivation and potential to do something. Needs should always be understood in their context, and they are certainly not hierarchical. Max-Neef furthermore distinguishes between patterns and processes when people actualize their needs.

Our third theoretical lens was not developed to understand human motivations or human development in particular—as the aforementioned theoretical lenses were—but it finds its origin in Dooyeweerd’s philosophical account of reality. Dooyeweerd was concerned with understanding reality from a nonreductionist perspective and found that reality presents itself in a multi-aspectual manner (see table 3, which lists the aspects Dooyeweerd [1953–1958, volume 2] identified). The relationship with human functioning and the aspects is that an account of human flourishing should do justice to this complexity of human functioning.

4 Data Collection

We know and work with refugees, and we interviewed officials working with refugees in the Global South (South Africa) as well as in the Global North (the Netherlands), where we also interviewed 14 refugees. From the South African refugee context we learned that no food or shelter is provided for asylum seekers who enter the asylum procedure. As a result, these asylum seekers often struggle greatly in their daily life. However, when we asked them why anyone would come to South Africa to request asylum, they answered that it offers opportunities: one can create a future of one’s own by starting a business or settling in a city or in a rural area. There is no governmental agency who decides when one can eat or where one should sleep, such as in the Netherlands. In order to better understand this paradox, we interviewed refugees and analyzed the data through the three above-mentioned theoretical lenses. The data collection does not have the status of social science research, but it serves to illustrate how different assumptions about human functioning focus on different policy aspects for refugees. We interviewed 14 refugees who had gone through the asylum process and been granted asylum in the Netherlands.5 Most refugees had fled from Syria, but some came from Ethiopia or Eritrea. In a semistructured interview, we asked them to indicate problems regarding humanitarian logistics that they had experienced during the asylum procedure.

Although each refugee had a unique story, some aspects were mentioned regularly by our interviewees. We’ve selected three quotes in table 1 that are representative of the interviews. They come from two specific individuals, namely, a Christian woman in her thirties who had to flee for her life from Syria, and a Muslim from the same country.


5 Data Analysis

The data collected in the way discussed above enabled us to understand the refugee situation from different perspectives. Here we present a table with observations that are directly linked to our data analysis in table 2. Some of the observations are provided to foster a holistic understanding of the refugees in their context.


6 Perspectives

6.1 Maslow Perspective

In order to better understand the situation of the refugees, we focus on their specific needs. Whenever needs analysis is mentioned, one intuitively thinks about Maslow’s seminal work of 1943. The popularization of specific papers often leads to a loss of depth intended by the original author. This is true of the work of Maslow: the popular versions do not do justice to the original work. We will reflect on the refugee situation from Maslow’s original perspective as presented in his 1943 paper published in Psychological Review. Before presenting his hierarchy of needs, Maslow presents several propositions argued in prior research, some of which are applicable to our research:

  1. 1.His theory is focused on ends rather than the means to an end, stressing the importance of unconscious rather than conscious motivation.
  2. 2.The situation of the person should be taken into account but “rarely serve as an exclusive explanation of behaviour.” In our context, this means that we cannot say that all motivation of refugees is related to their refugee situation.
  3. 3.“Motivational theory is not synonymous with behaviour theory” (Maslow 1943, 372) and is only one of several determinants of behavior. This distinction between needs and behavior was lost in the popularization of Maslow (1943).

We assume readers to be familiar with the popular version, but the deeper reflection that we aim to provide here is based on Maslow’s original work rather than its popular version.6 We present a reflection on the different levels in table 2. The table provides the popular version, the original version, and reflective notes on the situation of the refugees.

After the discussion of the first five levels of needs, Maslow adds the topic of “the preconditions for the basic need satisfaction” (1943, 384) where he argues that freedom strongly motivates individuals attempting to achieve the ends presented in the hierarchy. He presents the following list of freedoms (1943, 380):

Freedom to speak, freedom to do what one wishes so long as no harm is done to others, freedom to express one’s self, freedom to investigate and seek for information, freedom to defend one’s self, justice, fairness, honesty, [and] orderliness in the group are examples of [the] preconditions for basic need satisfactions. Thwarting in these freedoms will be reacted to with a threat or emergency response.

This list is different from the hierarchy, for these freedoms are means to ends rather than ends (the needs are the ends)—but they are means that are almost ends in themselves. With this statement Maslow leads us to a good understanding of the data depicting continuous discontent from refugees. Without these freedoms, the refugees do not appreciate the external satisfaction of their needs as such. In another, similar section titled “The desire to know and to understand,” Maslow refers to cognitive needs. He writes: “We shall then postulate a desire to understand, to systematize, to organize, to analyze, to look for relations and meanings” (1943, 380). He concludes by warning against separating the need for meaning from the basic needs. This observation is thus a major incentive to enhance the work done by the Dutch government by giving the refugees clear information so that they can understand their administrative journey.

Finally, in a section labeled “The degree of fixity of basic needs,” Maslow notes certain exceptions to the presented order of needs. He mentions two seemingly opposite groups. On the one hand, he argues that individuals who have been “satisfied for a long time” might be willing to ignore lower-level needs when they are motivated to achieve higher needs based on knowledge. On the other hand, some individuals are so used to longtime deprivation that they ignore more basic needs in favor of higher needs. The situation of this second group might be applicable to the refugees, whose strive toward freedom might play a role in the suppression of lower-level needs.

It is interesting to observe how the levels described by Maslow follow refugees’ journeys. Maslow argues that people’s motivation to satisfy their needs depends on their culture and context. According to him, the more you understand the needs of a specific individual, the more familiar his or her needs are in terms of hierarchy of needs. In the case of refugees, for example, a Dutch resident of a town where many refugees are settled may experience “them” to be very different from “us,” but should a friendship develop between a citizen and a refugee, they will soon come to understand that their individual needs—for instance, belongingness—are not so different after all.

For our purposes the previous three aspects discussed from Maslow (1943), which are all missing from the popular account of this seminal work, help us to better understand the behavior of refugees and the importance of our role in providing them with clear information regarding refugee logistics.

We simplified this Maslow analysis by conducting it from the perspective of the refugee only. However, we should also consider the needs of the Dutch citizens, many of whom are affected by the influx of refugees in their communities. They also have a need for information regarding the refugee processes. The discussion of needs highlights their need for getting familiar with a large group of people with unfamiliar behavior which threatens their feeling of content.

6.2 Max-Neef Perspective

Max-Neef’s needs theory of human-scale development (Max-Neef 1991; Max-Neef, Elizalde, and Hopenhayn 1992) is based on nine needs, or values: subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, creation, idleness, identity, and freedom. Transcendence could possibly be a tenth need. He believes that needs are finite, few, and classifiable, and that they do not differ between cultures. The ways in which these needs are satisfied are diverse and infinite, depending on variables such as context, conditions, and culture. All humans need subsistence, and we satisfy that need by using a wide variety of shelters and foodstuffs. All humans need understanding, and there are many forms of education, research, meditation, and divination that are used to achieve it. We all need protection, and a wide variety of health-care systems and military and penal structures exist with which we try to protect ourselves.

From the examples given above we can see that not all satisfiers (i.e., ways of meeting needs) are effective—some may be destructive or pseudosatisfiers. Some satisfiers satisfy more than one need at the same time and are called synergic satisfiers, while some needs may require more than one satisfier. According to Max-Neef, all human needs are interrelated and interactive and, with the sole exception of the need for subsistence (that is, to remain alive), no hierarchies exist among needs. On the contrary, simultaneities, complementarities, and trade-offs are characteristics of the process of needs satisfaction. A need does not have to be satisfied by others only—a need is the motivation and potential to do something. In order to emphasize that the poor are not mere passive receivers of development or charity, Max-Neef uses the term actualize instead of satisfy: you actualize your need for understanding when you take steps to find out what is going on.

We end this exposition of Max-Neef’s views with a quote that gives insight into what each need means (Max-Neef 1991, 18–19):

Any fundamental human need that is not adequately satisfied reveals a human poverty. Some examples are as follows: poverty of subsistence (due to insufficient income, food, shelter, etc.); of protection (due to bad health systems, violence, arms race, etc.); of affection (due to authoritarianism, oppression, exploitative relations with the natural environment, etc.); of understanding (due to poor quality of education); of participation (due to marginalization and discrimination of women, children and minorities); and of identity (due to imposition of alien values upon local and regional cultures, forced migration, political exile, etc.). But poverties are not only poverties. Much more than that, each poverty generates pathologies. This is the crux of our discourse.

6.2.1 Patterns

An understanding of the individual needs must be augmented with an analysis of the patterns and processes in which they occur; they cannot be understood out of context. The quote in table 1 (statement 1) can be analyzed in terms of a pattern. The whole process started because the refugee’s context had changed to such an extent that she had to flee in order to actualize her need for protection. The result is that her identity is changing from a Christian woman in Syria who has many Muslim friends, to a Christian woman in a strange, new country who is afraid and suspicious of other Syrians and distant from Muslims. The change in identity is at the same time a description of the changing way in which she actualizes her need for participation, because she is now marginalized in both her home country and her new country. She is now looking for ways to actualize different needs that all relate to her need for identity and to each other: for affection because her family is scattered over Syria and Europe; for understanding because she has to be educated in order to become the person she wants to be; for subsistence because she must find a career in this new country; for freedom because she doesn’t want to be under care always.

6.2.2 Processes

For this article, the responses from the refugee interviews have been further sorted according to the nine fundamental needs identified by Max-Neef (see below).

The choice as to where a given response should be placed can be debated. Consider, for example, a statement (not included in table 1) made by one of our interviewees: “They think that I am a criminal, because they take my fingerprints.” It can be seen as a lack of protection, because the respondent feels threatened by the system; it can also be placed under identity, because he feels he is regarded as a criminal; it is also a lack of participation, because he is marginalized, and a lack of understanding, because he doesn’t understand why they take his fingerprints. All of these must be considered, but it seems that the pattern of needs changed, as described below, when people went through the different phases in the logistical processes.

  1. 1.Protection is an unmet need. In the Netherlands, there is an elaborate system that provides income, food, housing, medical care, legal assistance, language education, etc.—all of which can be seen as one huge effort to care for the refugees, to protect them from hardship and suffering. It can also be seen as an implementation of Maslow’s basic needs.

    However, the system that is meant to protect the refugees is sometimes seen by them as their biggest source of fear and anxiety. They often feel unprotected because they do not understand what is going on, especially in the first phases of the process and during specific later events. When the final decision is that asylum has not been granted, the lack of protection manifests itself, understandably, in a devastating manner.

    Refugees often do not trust the system; they wonder: Should I tell the truth, or should I tell officials what they seemingly want to hear, or what the human trafficker told me to say? Will the information be used against me? Will it be shared with my homeland? Is the advocate capable? Does he/she have enough time to attend properly to my case? Do they understand me? Why do they ask certain things over and over again—do they compare stories told at different phases? What do the medical examiners think when they see my scars?

    The system that provides protection for refugees also protects the Dutch population. However, on both fronts one could ask whether it does so successfully. For example, as far as the refugees are concerned, protection is provided but in such a way that it leaves little room for freedom and creation. There is a lack of participation.

  2. 2.Lack of protection, lack of understanding, and lack of identity are often found together. They are indicative of the passive role that the refugees play in this process—they can only respond to the government as the active party. Together, these three needs may form the opposite of freedom and creation, which would refer to a process where the refugees are an active party. But the actualization of these two needs is seldom mentioned in the interviews, except, to some extent, in the later phases in the process.
  3. 3.Subsistence is seldom mentioned by the refugees, which can be an indication that the protection provided by the system is technically very effective. It is understandable that health care would sometimes be experienced as inadequate because of the pressure of the numbers of traumatized people.
  4. 4.The lack of creation is mentioned a few times; for example, some refugees feel that too much time is wasted while they have to sit passively and wait while their lives stand still. The sitting and waiting can at the same time explain why they seldom feel a lack of idleness and rest—they already have too much of that, except just after their arrival in the country, when they are often very tired.
  5. 5.Affection is mentioned in specific contexts where the family is under discussion. It obviously is a huge problem, because it is seldom the case that a whole family arrives together. Refugees also experience a lack of affection (in the sense of esteem, solidarity, respect) in their relations with the Dutch people.
  6. 6.Participation is an issue. Many refugees have fled because they were marginalized in their home country to such an extent that they feared for their life. Economic refugees left because they could not participate in the economy. The lack of participation in the Dutch society and economy was mentioned often, mostly not as a problem in itself but rather as a reason why the respondent does not feel protected (the advocate does not understand me) or to explain the lack of understanding (I cannot speak the language) or the lack of identity (I am now in a new country with strange habits).

The Dutch system for taking up refugees focusses on the satisfaction of basic needs. To some extent, that is not in conflict with Max-Neef’s theory of basic needs: Max-Neef also regards subsistence as a priority in crisis situations—if you do not exist, all needs become irrelevant. The value that is added by a consideration of Max-Neef’s approach is that all fundamental needs are equally important and should be considered from the beginning, even if some will receive more attention in some phases of the process. They are interactive and interdependent.

6.3 Dooyeweerd Perspective

Dooyeweerd claims that reality presents itself in (at least) 15 modal aspects, or modes of existence (see Dooyeweerd 1953–1958, 1:1). These aspects are listed in table 3. Humans flourish when justice is done to the aspects in a nonreductionist manner. For example, one should not view human flourishing exclusively in terms of the economic aspect, as if a good financial position guarantees human well-being; or only in terms of the social aspect, as if the sole contribution of human flourishing is when people have good relationships with others; or only in terms of the psychological aspect, as if psychologically balanced humans automatically flourish. These modal aspects are also normative perspectives. Therefore one could say that humans flourish when justice is done to all the aspectual norms holding for reality in which humans function in their various contexts, such as during the asylum procedure.


We will now address problems experienced by refugees through the theoretical lenses of the modal aspects and illustrate them with the quotes from the refugees in table 1.

Pistic aspect. The pistic aspect is about faith and trust. It is about one’s deepest convictions about the world—that is, religious (or philosophical, ideological, spiritual, etc.) presuppositions about the universe—but also about (ultimate) trust. In statement 1, we find four references to the pistic aspect. The reason why this refugee fled her country was because she could no longer trust that her life was safe. There was a direct relationship between her religious belief and her distrust: as a Christian, she was not safe. The distrust between religious groups is not done away with in the refugee-hosting country, as she mentions: Syrian people in the Netherlands do not trust each other because too much has happened during the war. Value-sensitivity to the pistic aspect is important in the context of humanitarian logistics: perhaps one should not organize meetings with mixed religious (or ethnic) groups, because for some refugees it is too stressful to share a physical space with someone from a different religious background—for example, putting Hutu and Tutsi refugees or Bosnian and Serbian refugees together in a room or coach has previously led to problems (see, e.g., Brooks 1998).

Social aspect. The war has affected social relationships. The refugee mentions that she is no longer friends with some people practicing a different religion. However, she now has new social contacts in the church in her hosting country. The fact that she visits a church in her hosting country could aid to the relative flourishing of this refugee in the social aspect, as social research confirms (e.g., Lim and Putnam 2010). In interviews with other refugees, we heard about a number of cases in which refugees struggled to make friends in their hosting country. They often mentioned that this could be due to the language barrier.

Symbolic aspect. Language belongs to the symbolic aspect in which reality presents itself. The refugee experienced problems in this aspect that directly relate to additional problems concerning work and understanding cultural habits but also to the social aspect. Not speaking the hosting-country’s language severely hinders participation in the labor market and the generating of one’s own income, thus affecting one’s opportunity to create independence, which relates to the formative aspect.

Formative aspect. The refugee states, “I must become a European,” which relates to the formative aspect. The formative aspect is sometimes called the technical aspect, since it is about the creative ability of humans to shape their environment, including material and cultural free formative power. The refugee struggles in this respect, as did many other refugees that we’ve spoken with. They cannot freely give shape to their future, since many things—study, work, including voluntary work—are insecure. She expresses that “always being under care” hinders her development. While being under care may initially appear to be a good thing, it creates a dependence that potentially hinders human flourishing.

Analytic aspect. The analytic or logical aspect refers to reality as being coherent and yet diverse. In this diversity, human beings can make logical distinctions and make sense of their surroundings. Refugees often struggle in this area because, due to their experiences in their home country, their lives are disturbed, and things are not as predictable and logical as they used to be. They find themselves in a new country, in an asylum system that is part of a rather complex and bureaucratic apparatus requiring them to understand many documents and procedures and to deal with different partners who have different roles and responsibilities that are often unclear to the refugees. Their struggles in the analytic aspect affect their functioning as human beings, especially in the later aspects—that is, the aspects following the formative aspect in table 3, such as the language aspect and the economic aspect—but also in the juridical aspect (which is not mentioned in this quote but was sometimes mentioned by other refugees).

Economic aspect. The refugee mentions that finding a job so as to become independent is one of her biggest struggles. She is not worried about not being cared for in the economic sense, but she likes to be economically independent. As a refugee in the Netherlands, she’s not economically independent: asylum seekers receive either an in-kind allowance (housing and food) or a daily allowance, and once they have refugee status, they are eligible for social benefits. The Dutch asylum system seems to focus on the things that can be expressed and thus managed in economic terms, such as food and housing. However, this focus has some downsides, too, for it may take away people’s drive to make a living for themselves and make a meaningful contribution to society at large (see, for example, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 2013).

Ethical aspect. The ethical aspect is about love and care and not merely about good or bad, because many aspects can be expressed in normative terms: one can squander money or make a wise investment (economic aspect), threaten or comfort someone (psychological aspect), argue coherently or incoherently (analytic aspect), be respectful or disrespectful (social aspect), and so on. The refugee in the quote states that “no other country will give us what the Netherlands gave to us,” and with this she refers to the way she was cared for in the Netherlands. She makes another remark about care, namely, that she sees a downside in always being cared for: it creates an unwanted dependency relationship. Therefore, it is important to realize that the aspects relate to each other, and when no justice is done to the other aspects, a person does not experience loving care in the ethical sense. Loving care is at odds with paternalistic care and hinders the flourishing of a human being.

Psychological aspect. The psychological aspect is clearly connected to many other aspects: the refugee of statement 3 experiences feelings of inferiority because he does not understand the language (symbolic aspect); he cannot give shape to his own life and manage a company, which gave him status (formative aspect); and he cannot economically sustain himself—and because of this, he is not treated with respect (social aspect) or dignity (ethical aspect).

What we can learn from this aspectual analysis is that the problems mentioned by the refugees show interrelations. They also show the wickedness of the problem of refugee logistics: for example, taking care of refugees’ well-being in the economic aspect is considered both a blessing—refugees don’t have to worry about money—and a curse—refugees may become demotivated because of the dependency relationship it creates (formative aspect).

An important issue is trust, which was indirectly mentioned several times in the quotes in table 1; and this is an aspect that does not receive much attention in Maslow or Max-Neef.

7 Conclusion

Dealing with humanitarian logistics for refugees can be considered a wicked problem in the social policy domain. Refugee-hosting countries continuously optimize their policies regarding refugees by navigating between obligations toward the Geneva Refugee Treaty, manageability of the situation, and worries of their citizens voiced through public opinion. Presuppositions about human flourishing affect the interpretation of well-being in refugee policies. In this article, we reflected on refugees’ experiences with Dutch asylum policies and analyzed these experiences through the theoretical lenses of Maslow, Max-Neef, and Dooyeweerd.

Maslow shows the importance of providing refugees with information so that they may know and understand the refugee process, which aids in the satisfaction of their needs on each hierarchical level. But this also holds for the needs of the Dutch citizens who are affected by the influx of refugees in their communities. The discussion of needs highlights the citizens’ need for familiarity. Therefore, it is important to go beyond such an approach as the popular version of Maslow’s theory of basic needs, which ignores the importance of information relative to any needs satisfaction.

Max-Neef’s theory of basic needs is in some ways compatible with Maslow, in the sense that Max-Neef also regards subsistence as a priority in crisis situations: if you do not exist, all needs become irrelevant. The value that is added by a consideration of Max-Neef’s approach is that all fundamental needs are equally important and should be considered from the beginning, even if some will receive more attention in some phases of the process. They are interactive and interdependent. Therefore, the initial focus on “bed, bath, and bread” needs to be seen in the specific context of a particular refugee.

A Dooyeweerdian analysis reveals that many problems experienced by refugees are interrelated and trust related. This aspect of well-being does not receive much attention in Maslow or Max-Neef. It means that efforts made in other aspectual areas—such as organizing housing, transport, language classes, and social events, or bringing in interpreters—should be done in a careful manner. Issues of trust are not easily solved, but more research should be done to increase trust relationships. A suggestion could be that stability in housing situations and social relationships (either through formal or informal networks) should be cherished and supported.7


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Refugees include individuals recognized under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, persons recognized under the 1969 Organization of African Unity Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, those recognized in accordance with the unhcr Statute, individuals granted complementary forms of protection, and those enjoying temporary protection. The refugee category also includes persons in a refugee-like situation (


Asylum seekers (with “pending cases”) are individuals who have sought international protection and whose claims for refugee status have not yet been determined.


In 2015, Christine Boshuijzen-van Burken and Attie van Niekerk wrote a report based on the interviews entitled “Vuchtelingenlogistiek en waarden” (unpublished manuscript).


See, for instance, the Wikipedia version (


This paper is part of the research program “Responsible Innovation” (project number MVI.16.011), which is partly financed by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research. The research was done as part of the research project “The Refugee Crisis in Europe: Modelling Humanitarian Logistics,” funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (nwo), Prisma, Stichting voor Christelijke Filosofie, North-West University, and the Gunilla Bradley Center for Digital Business. The objective of the research was to optimize the humanitarian logistics process for refugees in a value-sensitive manner. We’d like to thank the interviewees for their time and effort.

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