On September 12, many LUC staff and students participated in the European Day of Action for Refugees, including a march in the city center of The Hague. Looking for other ways to get involved? See this list of organizations that can use your help.
Below is a post by LUC student Qali Nur, who is working on a documentary about the group Wij Zijn Hier.
Over the past weeks the media has been dominated by the news on the so-called ‘migrant crisis’. Hundreds of thousands of mostly Syrian, Iraqi, Eritrean and Somali refugees have arrived in Italy, Greece and Hungary over the last months. Most of them want to continue the travel and go to Germany and Austria. However, the Hungarian police has been blocking the way and has stopped the trains going to Germany and Austria. After having lost patience, the refugees decided to walk all the way to Germany. In Germany, they experienced a warm welcome by the German citizens. It seems like European citizens are becoming more welcoming of refugees; however, islamophobia and xenophobia also seem to increase in Europe. As European member states have agreed to take more refugees, we have to ask ourselves what happens to those who have undertaken the journey to Europe, but will not be granted asylum?
“We are here and we will fight, for freedom of movement, it’s everybody’s right.”
In the summer of 2014 I started a documentary on denied asylum seekers and undocumented people in the Netherlands. After seeing a horrible picture of a man who was very ill on the Wij Zijn Hier Facebook page, I decided I wanted to know more about the situation of those without the ‘right’ documents. I contacted the Wij Zijn Hier (We Are Here) group and got the contacts of several people. After emailing them, I managed to make an appointment with Alula and Ilhaam. Alula, from Ethiopia, came to the Netherlands as political refugee. He was the first person I interviewed and he was incredibly nice. At that time he was staying at the Vluchtgarage. The Vluchtgarage was a squatted building in which around 100 men were staying. When we were walking around, Alula told me about the difficulties. There were some toilets, but no showers or warm water. There was no light in most of the areas and there were a lot of leakages. It was very cold and wet in the entire building (I was there in the summer), and it made me think of how cold it must be during the winter. After a visit to the Vluchtgarage in June 2014, College voor de Rechten van de Mens (College for human rights) concluded that the Vluchtgarage was an inhumane place to live.
A week later I interviewed Ilhaam. Her parents moved to Saudi Arabia to escape from the war in Somalia, however after her father was fired they were not allowed to stay in Saudi Arabia. Unable to return to Somalia, her family went to Yemen. However, life in Yemen was difficult and those without papers barely have any rights. Therefore, Ilhaam decided to go to the Netherlands and try to build a new life here.
Ilhaam really inspires me; she is always reading and she always wants to learn more and more. She taught herself Dutch and she is hoping to study medicine once she gets Dutch citizenship. Ilhaam became a spokesperson for the Wij Zijn Hier group and continued to tell her story to raise awareness. Last month she made a video to inform people in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Netherlands about the situation of undocumented and denied asylum seekers in these countries. You can watch the video here. (There are English subtitles).
After having interviewed many people on this matter, I have learned a lot about the situation these people find themselves in. As an undocumented or denied asylum seeker, you are almost forced to live on the streets. Up until recently, the Dutch government believed that they were not responsible for providing basic needs such as shelter and food. However, after a long period of discussion and protest, the Dutch government decided to at least provide “Bed, Bad and Brood” (bed, bath and bread). However, this is not in the whole country; only six municipalities are providing it. Furthermore, the Bed, Bad and Brood agreement only includes night shelter. The people can have breakfast at the shelter and after that they are out on the street until the evening. Although, this is an improvement, but it is still not humane. As an undocumented or denied asylum seeker, you cannot work or go to school during the day. Without money, you cannot go to restaurants, cinemas, or many other places to shelter from the cold. Ilhaam told me she usually spent her time at public libraries or just outside.
Shelter, however is not the only issue that undocumented or denied asylum seekers deal with. For my Investigative Journalism course at LUC, I looked into the police protection and the right to file a report for undocumented and denied asylum seekers in the Netherlands. I interviewed several people who told me about their experiences with the police. Ali Juma, from Burundi, has been in the Netherlands for over 9 years. At the time he was staying at the ‘Vluchtgebouw’ another squatted building by the Wij Zijn Hier group. He told me about his friend who felt dizzy and ill and decided to ask for help when he passed a police station. His friend who was also denied asylum, passed out when he arrived at the police station and woke up in a detention center. Ali said, his friend only got out after six months. The fear to be detained often holds undocumented people back to file a report at the police or ask for help. To make it worse, these people are often abused since the perpetrators are aware of the fear of detention. Out of the interviews I have done, most people told me that there does not seem to be any consistent policy on this matter, and that whether you are detained or not depends on the mercy of the police officer.
“OOh là là, oOh lé lé, solidarité
avec les sans- papiers!”
Now the question is: what can you do to help? First of all, the people of the Wij Zijn Hier group in Amsterdam, but also people in the Hague, are dependent on the donations of people for food and basic necessities such as soap and shampoo. You could either donate something yourself, or you could organize a food collection at the closest supermarket like this: https://www.facebook.com/WijZijnHier/posts/1008662525833977.
Furthermore, you could help with washing clothes, or if you have a car you can help with transport, since the people often change location and need to squat new buildings if they are evicted. You can also become a buddy at the Wij Zijn Hier group and help people with the language and documents. Last but not least, you could just come by and become a supporter!
There are several events organized like dinners or benefit concerts and you can always come. Just keep an eye on the Facebook page for the events https://www.facebook.com/WijZijnHier/timeline
Qali Nur is a third-year student studying World Politics at LUC.