self-organized migrant protests in the Netherlands
Since 2010 asylum seekers who have been rejected are no longer entitled to basic rights such as shelter and food in the Netherlands. Even when it is impossible to return to their countries of origin, the Dutch government argues that they can leave voluntarily. Denying them access to reception centers, putting them in prison and forcing them to survive in parks, railway stations and insecure hiding places, that is the way to convince them to leave this country. The capstone of the asylum procedure is deportation. Undocumented migrants are systematically held in administrative detention for up to 18 months and this can be repeated endlessly. If they cannot be deported they are put on the street without any title of right, no shelter no care, nothing at all. In the first half of 2012 5.000 asylum seekers have been dumped on the street without any life support. Most of them go in hiding, including women with children. They depend on charity, on good will (or bad will) of private people. But more and more refuse to hide and they fight for a decent life, for hope.
Self-organized migrant protests started under the name of “Refugees-on-the-Street” in the spring of 2011 in Utrecht. It was the somalis who took the lead in a couple of small temporary action camps.
In May 2012 rejected asylumseekers from Irak who did not volunteer to go back to Irak were dumped from refugee centres. They took the initiative to squat a piece of land in front of the Deportation Complex in Ter Apel and started a protest camp. Rejected asylumseekers from other nationalities, like the somalians, who did not want to cooperate with their deportation (and whose country is not willing to accept deportees against their will) followed and the protest camp grew to 400 people. Most of them were previously living in the streets. The Irakese were offered a temporary stay back in the asylum centres until a Irakese minister would visit the Netherlands. Eviction of the camp was expected soon and the Irakese accepted. Some others asylumseekers who feared deportation left the camp as well leaving 167 in the camp, originally from Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Afghanistan. “I don’t want to die. I need life, I need hope.” These are the words of the Ethiopean woman Meskeren of Refugees-on-the-Street. The camp grew each day and the living conditions were miserable. A solution to the problems – housing and a safe future – was far from being reached. Three weeks after the camp was set up the camp was evicted by mass police force and 115 migrants who refused to leave were arrested (and 2 dutch sympathisors). Most were iranians ans somalis who were shouting slogans and singing when arrested. They have been brought to a police station for identification and then brought to reception centers, where they enjoy limited freedom and are not able to demonstrate. Around the camps a network of helpers, supporters and activists (type Occupy), artists, academics etc. gathered to provide direct aid, temporary solutions and advice.
ProtestZonderPapieren1Since the camp in ter Apel everybody knew rejected aylum seekers were present. These self-organized action by the refugees have highlighted a humanitarian and political problem that has been growing for years and was hidden from the public eye. Now these people have made themselves visible and seek solutions by entering in dialogue with civil society and democratic representatives. To realize their aims they need to be together, safe and visible. Apparently the authorities want to make them disappear again.
In September 2012 two new camps were set up in Amsterdam and in The Hague. For three months the refugees endured harsh weather in make shift tents where a growing number of refugees found shelter, food, safety and medical care. The protest camp in Amsterdam housed some 100 refugees from mainly Africa (Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenia, Congo, Mauretania, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Mali and Guinee) and also individuals from Yemen, China and Armenia. Divided by years of war, conflict and distrust, Somalis, Ethiopians and Eritreans should not be able to work together. But they have. With their slogan “WE ARE HERE” they show that WE are human beings, WE have nowhere to go, WE stay here until we have a solution that respects our human rights. The camp in Amsterdam also showed a growing number of supporters, mainly inhabitants from the neighbourhood who brought food, cloths, blankets.
On their blog, the refugees that camp out in Amsterdam declared: “We are here because our life is in danger. There are many reasons for this. War is the most important one. There are several armed conflicts in Africa that cost many lives, disrupt families and livelihoods. Political violence and oppression, religious division, problems between tribes and clans add to make solutions complicated. Drought, famine and other economic factors also push people to find a better future elsewhere. All these cases are inter-related. We can see this in the extremist movements. They make life impossible for you if you do not conform to strict rules. Having a drink can cost you your life. Being a member of another tribe, or of another religion, can bring you into deep trouble. So we are here because we face persecution and danger in our countries. We need to be in the Netherlands because this country is a free country where our lives are safe and we could build a future.”
The migrants were determined to stay where they were and faced the police force at the eviction that took place on November 30, 2012.
Some 80 activists and supporters blocked the entrance to the camp for the police and were dragged away one by one. The police could not convince the migrants to leave the camp voluntarily and 96 migrants were arrested. Some of the refugees held signs: “we want a normal life.” Others taped their mouths shut and stood as witnesses until they were taken away too. Some 86 were released the same night after the camp was gone. Most were Somalians who cannot be deported and because of this cannot be detained. Eight persons from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Yemen, Mauretania, Ivory Coast, Somalia and Kenya were kept in detention. One man from Armenia has been deported. With nowhere to go, the refugees took to the streets. In the following days, they were received by various Amsterdam citizens from all walks of life in a spontaneous act of hospitality.
The self-organized action by the refugees have highlighted a humanitarian problem that has been growing for years and was hidden from the public eye. They fight not only for rejected migrants who cannot be deported. It is a struggle for all migrants who instead of being welcomed, are put away in asylum centres, detention centres or they are left to their fate without care, without housing without prospect of a decent existence.
A couple of days later the Amsterdam Student Squatting Group occupied an empty church in Amsterdam for continuation protest. After the squat the protestant church declared itself solidair with the refuge church and protested against the fact that the migrants from the camp were arrested and put on the street without being able to leave the country and without having any right for housing or income. The protestant church gives the church called Flight Church juridical and financial support.
In The Hague a group of Iraqi (mostly Kurdish) refugees set up camp near the central Station in open tents in even worse conditions than in Amsterdam. They carry the name RIGHT TO EXIST. In december 2012 a group of 40 refugees were evicted from the three month old camp. 28 people were arrested of which 21 asylumseekers and 7 sympathisers. They squatted another empy church in The Hague on the 12th of january 2013. To be continued.