Chapter 1: Refugees
Chapter 2: The Borderprison
Chapter 3: Daily life
Chapter 4: Medical care
Chapter 5: Protest
Chapter 6: Restriction of freedom
Chapter 7: Expulsions
Chapter 8: Intimidations
Chapter 9: Conclusions
This publication is a summary of the dutch texts that were published on May 5, 1993.
Chapter 3: Daily life
All the refugees we spoke with in the past year had similar complaints, which mark every day they have to stay in the border prison. Many detainees complain about sleeplessness, continuous headaches and concentration problems. These com- plaints are due to the fact that they are detained, that an expulsion is looming over their heads and that they do not understand why they have ended up in this situation. The incomprehension is made even worse by the obscurity in which Justice decides to deport people, to send them through to a Refugee Centre, an Asylum Seekers Centre or to put them out onto the streets. From the beginning all this gives rise to feelings of anger and despair.
A large part of the time the refugees spend in the border prison is taken up by reflecting on their situation. Between them they talk a lot about the problems everybody is confron- ted with.
Not much use is made of the possibility to talk about the problems with non-detainees within the institution. For, the stigma "no chance, obviously unfounded" determines the opinion about these refugees. The refugees' largest problem is that they are not able to offer a contribution to the treatment of their asylum application, since they are deprived of their liberty. Their fate is in the hands of Justice, which, howe- ver, in the first instance rejected them. They are forced to leave everything to their lawyer and can only wait for what is to come. Under these circumstances it is for instance not possible for the refugee to gather evidence about his identi- ty; in this matter he is dependent on the steps Justice wishes to take. Justice often doubts the nationality given by the refugee, but does not undertake much to substantiate this doubt. The refugee has to suffer for it. In this way a refu- gee's day is coloured by anger, fear, boredom, despair and the feeling of being dependent on a system on which he can exerci- se no influence at all. In order to suppress these feelings, many make use of the limited facilities offered by the border prison.
In the propaganda leaflet of the Ministry of Justice about the border prison is a clause about the status of the prison: "A hostel has various linguistic meanings. A hostel can be an "inn", a "residence for visitors", a "home" or a "hostel offering hospitality to travellers". The Ministry of Justice, in view of the circumstances that the asylum seeker is not yet allowed to enter the Netherlands, tries to approximate the given definition as much as possible". Now, after a years' functioning of the border prison we must conclude that the Ministry of Justice has great difficulty to approximate this definition even remotely. From the beginning the detention situation has been clear; it is the opposite of hospitality. Moreover the "hospitality" is in contradiction with the secon- dary effect which this "hostel" was meant to have, namely to deter other refugees from trying to enter the Netherlands, to stem the supposed "flood of asylum seekers". Justice expected that the outside world would see the buildings only as a prison, as is demonstrated by the following quotation from the same propaganda leaflet: "The reproach is easily made that the Border Hospice is a prison. In two respects this is incorrect. The asylum seeker can leave the centre of his own free will, although in only one direction: back to his own country. Besides, the regime in the Border Hostel is more open than in any prison whatsoever". When Justice states that it is incor- rect in two respects to say that the hospice is a prison, the Ministry must surely mean that it is correct to call it a prison in all other respects!
You are "free" to leave
"The asylum seeker can leave the centre of his own free will", according to Justice. It shows a particular cynicism on the part of Justice to speak of "free will". As if one can talk of a choice, let alone free will. The refugee did not come here of his own accord. The refugee came here to seek asylum, he was forced to flee and therefore will not go back of his own accord. The words: "Of course you are free to withdraw your asylum application", which are written in the information leaflet on the asylum application lying in the cells do not testify of respect for the right of asylum. Some lines down in the leaflet the suggestion is made that when one decides to withdraw his asylum application, one can go to a country where one can get a residence status. Although mention is made of the fact that this "other country" is likely to be one's country of origin, the Ministry of Justice leads the refugee to believe that withdrawal of the asylum application offers new perspectives. By this kind of information Justice discou- rages refugees to seek asylum and takes advantage of the vulnerable and hopeless position of refugees.
The second argument wielded by Justice against the reproach that the border hostel can easily be called a prison, is that the "regime is more open than in any prison whatsoever". The information leaflet handed out to refugees states that during their stay in the border prison refugees have the right to be looked after, to make any phone calls they wish to make, and that they have the right to receive visitors. The leaflet goes on to say that on the other hand the refugee is expected to respect some rules (so, in exchange for one's rights!), that "the centre can function peacefully and orderly". Mention is also made of the fact that the Ministry of Justice will do everything to keep the term of residence as short as possible. When a refugee enters the prison he is informed that he will stay there for six to eight weeks. The practice, however, is different: the term of detention is often three months. In a newspaper arti- cle the Social Advocacy is blamed for this long term. For lawyers have a practice of continuing to litigate for these called perspectiveless refugees. That the first verdict of Justice is often mere speculation is shown by the large number of refugees who are sent through from the border prison to a Refugee Centre or an Asylum Seekers Centre (OC/AZC). Owing to the efforts of lawy- ers, supported by refugee organisations such as our Working Group Refugees, 30- 40% of the refugees is admitted to the Netherlands after all.
Restriction of privacy
Generally speaking the refugees' privacy is not protected but restricted. Refugee's cells are regularly searched when they are in the canteen for lunch. This has been witnessed by refugees who for once did not go to the refectory to eat, but stayed in their quarters.
A refugee who is brought to the dentist, is accompanied by a guard during transport. The guard does not remain outside, but watches the treatment from beginning to end. Later on the guard says that pulling the molar out was not a pleasant sight, but that the refugees are somewhat squeamish about pain.
Beside the telephone in the porter's lodge there is a casset- terecorder conected to the telephone. there is always a possibility to record telephone calls. However, not one of the refugees knows about this recorder and the Regulations do not cover this intrusion on privacy. , privacy is out of the question, while the above mentioned *Explanatory Memorandum on the Regulations Border Hospice make reference to the protection of privacy. It seems that this protection of privacy is only effective in the hours destined for sleep (by locking the refugees in their cells).
"My experience is that the individual inhabitants are decent, friendly and subservient, actually very small people. But as a group they become highly dangerous" (E. Politiek, assistent director border prison, Vrij Nederland, April 3, 1993).
Almost everything that happens in the border prison and that originates with Justice falls under the concept of "control". The Regulations Border Hospice consists of a disproportionate- ly large number of rules regarding the maintaining of "safety and order". Many measures imposed on the refugees that we know of contain these two concepts; as a change occasionally the concept "quiet" is mentioned. Since the opening slowly but surely a policy of curbing has developed, which is based on "order and quiet".
The refugees are under constant surveillance, which means essentially that every movement is registered.
Individualization of criticism
People who refuse to accept their detention and/or stand up for their rights, get a special treatment. Practice shows that every form of assertiveness is a cause for personnel and staff to talk of an emergency situation, a threatening revolt or verbal agression. People who show such a displeasing asserti- veness are punished for the least incident.
Especially in the more turbulent periods, like December '92, the most critical persons are labeled "leaders", "agitators" or "rebels". A large part of them is transferred to an isola- tion cell in a remand prison. Others are placed under special control. A sort of psychological war is waged against these people, which turns the none too pleasant stay into hell.
Another method used in periods of unrest is increasing the pressure on those regarded as "leaders" by the staff. The pressure always takes the form of visits of the staff, who then underline that if the refugee has a problem he should always come to the head of the ward or to the staff, instead of talking about it with the other refugees.
These methods sometimes even amount to breaking up friendships between refugees, which are thought to be too close, by pla- cing them in different wards. For instance, the refugees J. and G. were separated after an incident between them and a number of guards on January 10, 1993, resulting in the fact that G. cannot visit J. anymore. Not that it is forbidden, but when Mr. G. comes to visit J. he is simply told that J. is not in the ward.
When J. complains about this, the personnel decide to use another method. From that moment everytime G. is seen to approach the courtyard, they just lock the door to the ward. Both of them are also repeatedly approached by the wardens with remarks like the ones mentioned above. In this way the staff tries to individualize and depolitize general criticism. The result is also that the people who are treated in this manner become more isolated from the other refugees, because of the special attention they get from the staff.
Visits from outside
We frequently try to get in touch with the refugees by calling them. It happens regularly that we are frustrated in doing , by remarks of person- nel, saying that orders from above make a telephone call impossible. In a certain situation in November '92, when an employee of a ward refuses to puts us through, he acts on his own authority. This is confirmed in a meeting with the staff. The deputy governor promises us that he will see to it that this does not happen again. But still the pattern repeats itself. It happens frequently that we are not put through, because "according to the rules it is not possible". Could we please call back later. When we do, again we are not connected. Apparently this acting on one's own authority can and may continue. Several times we are also told that there is an interruption of the line. Afterwards it appears that these are moments when something is going on inside the prison, like for instance the demonstration of January 27, 1993. The length of the interrup- tion varies; the longest was for two days.
Telephone calls from the border prison are also frequently made impossible. Every time something is going on, the telep- hones are sealed with strong tape. This is in sharp contrast with the explanation in the NvT*:" Making telephone calls will only be restricted on practical grounds - waiting for one's turn." Article 5 of the Regulations Border Hostel states that the refugee is entitled "to make telephone calls for his own account."
Members of the Working Group Refugees weekly visit refugees in the border prison. During the first year this visit was arran- ged as follows: By means of a telephone call from the refugee to the person of organisation he wants to see, an appointment is made between the two. This appointment then takes place at any desired moment within the given regulations. It is also possible that an acquaintance of the refugee or an organisati- on makes an appointment for the refugee with the visitor. The visitor and the refugee are in fact bound to only a few rules. In any case, arranging the visit takes place without interfe- rence from a third party.
On April 7, 1993 a new visiting regulation became effective and the Regulations Border Hospice were supplemented with an entire new regulation, namely a regulation for telephone calls.
According to the new visiting regulation the refugee must make a written request to the BSD* when he wants to receive a visit. He fills in a visit request form and the clerical staff (BSD) "will, when the governor does not object to the reque- sted visit..." make an appointment. "The governor decides on the planning of visits." (article 2 Regulation for Visits Border Hospice).
Nothing is said in this regulation about how the request is to be dealt with. It remains unclear with whom the clerical staff makes the appointment; with the refugee or with the visitor. It is not specified who informs the visitor whether or not he can come. The visiting regulation does not say a word about a time limit within which the refugee and/or the visitor is told whether the appointment can go through or not. It looks like it that the refugee himself, therefore at his own expense, has to inform his visitor by telephone or by means of a letter that an appointment has been made. This means extra costs for the refugee who usually is penniless.
It is obvious that the detainees are almost completely scree- ned off from Dutch society; only those who already have ac- quaintances in the Netherlands can request a visit. Due to the absence of regulations concerning a time limit this new regu- lation offers the staff an almost unlimited freedom to delay the visit. This can be frustrating for a visitor whose expul- sion is at hand and who wants to have contact with his visi- tor. In the most extreme case an appointment is made, but the refugee is deported beforehand. "When the maintaining of order and safety demands it, the governor can refuse a visitor the admission to or the continued stay in the Border Hostel", according to article 4 of the visiting regulation. A visitor could also be refused on the basis of the earlier regulation. It is true that a detainee can lodge a complaint about such a refusal, but there is a good chance that he is deported by the time the visit is granted after all. In neither of these two regulations has the visitor any right to complain if he is refused. Nowhere in the regulations is there a clause stating that the grounds for refusal (as from April '93) will be given.
Thus we as a Working Group were kept from our work for more than two weeks. In the end the refugee is the one to suffer. Completely new is the telephone regulation which became effec- tive on April 15, 1993. Up to this date no telephone regulati- on existed. A refugee could always call or be called. The only restrictions were the times laid down and the limited number of phones. Now the new regulation restricts these possibili- ties of telephone contact by re-routing every call via the office. You call the border prison and leave your name and phonenumber. These are passed on to the refugee in question, who can then call back. These are serious restrictions. The return call is at the expense of the refugee who usually has no money.
In particular calls to family abroad, or requests by telephone for more material to support the asylum application, therefore become impossibly dear. Moreover, when the call is made from a telephone box or a postoffice it becomes impossible or very complicated to call back, because the caller can hardly wait all day for the return call. Here too the delaying tactic can be used. "The governor sees to it that requests to be called back, will be brought to the refugee's notice as soon as possible, but at the latest the first day after the request", according to article 4 Telephone Regulation Border Hostel. Lawyers too seem to fall within this regulation, which delays their work or makes it impossible. When a lawyer calls his client, he probably needs to talk to him urgently. If the refugee calls back a considerable time later, because he was not informed of the telephone call earlier, there is a good chance that the lawyer has left again. A large part of the working day of a lawyer is spent in court, not at his office. This increasing restriction of freedom, in a socalled open regime, should be brought up for discussion in Parliament. During the past year it has appeared that the promised freedom of contact with the outside world, as promised in the leaflet and the Regulations also do not apply to communication with the press. The press is still welcome when they wish to talk with the governor. It happens repeatedly that journalists during a telephone call with a refugee are confronted with the umpteenth interruption of the telephone connection.