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 is chapter one of a brochure from the Autonomous Centre In the Netherlands about the border-prison: 'Grenshospitium'.
Chapter 1. Refugees
Refugees particularly confront us with the increasingly great disparities between the Northern and the Southern hemispheres and consequently cause an ideological confrontation amongst people here. They force us to reflect on the relations in the world.
At present we are no longer only confronted with television programmes showing the misery, after which we write out a cheque, if we feel like it, but now people from over there are here. The reaction of the governments and parts of the population to this development causes cracks in the image of the tolerant, democratic societies in the West. When we talk about refugee policy we cannot detach it from other developments. The refugee problem is caused by oppression; by wars waged with an abundance of weapons, often produced with considerable profits by the West; by the consequences of the colonial past; by a situation of impoverishment and desperation in the "Third World"; etc. It reveals how the world is structured in a political and economical sense. In the new world order there is only room for a single dominating economy, a single dominating ideology and a single dominating culture. Diversity disappears and things depend on one another. Borders cease to exist.
We live in a make-believe world. Day after day the truth is stretched. The second Gulf War was the best-known example in the last few years to illustrate this in an extreme way. A fake world is kept in existence by certain pressure groups and governments, because otherwise the legitimacy of their activities would disappear completely. This also goes for the issue of the refugees and the problem.
Therefore it is important to refute the lies constantly and to show how reality is made up. The myths have to be destroyed. Myths which are needed to soften the harsh reality.
- the myth that the Netherlands are full
- the myth of the millions who are coming
- the myth that accepting refugees will incite more refugees to come to the Netherlands
- the myth that the Netherlands are not an immigration country
- and the myth that we have a humane refugee policy.
From these myths stemmed the border prison in Amsterdam South- East. Here too everything has been done to distort the truth. It would be a semi-hotel; a guesthouse. In the past year we have tried to bring the reality to the surface and to shatter the myth.
There is a danger that the refugee problem will remain abstract, because few people meet refugees. It is like the famous tv-pictures of misery which are consumed as a simple movie. It is striking that if people do get in touch with refugees and their problems, they often start to think in a different way and get more grip on the situation. They are shocked by reality. Therefore it is not coincidental that the policy is aimed at keeping the refugees away from the population. This is done by locking the refugees up in jails, Opvangcentra (Refugee Centres) and Asielzoekerscentra (Centres for Asylum Seekers) (AZC) which are usually situated miles away from anywhere. These developments also stimulate the "Us" and "Them" feeling in society. The "Them" are numbers in the newspapers and streams which are supposed to flood "us"; "We" do not know them.
After one year of developments in and around the border prison the only conclusion possible is that it is truly a prison. And those who are imprisoned have not the slightest idea why they are detained, since they have done nothing wrong. This therefore is the main cause for complaints, tensions and disease symptoms of the detainees. Besides, the detained refugee often also appears to be a plaything within a judicial vacuum. In a formal legal sense the border prison is not a penitentiary institution. This means that the procedures of justice cannot be tested against any applicable regulations and laws. In practice it is a prison. This enables the justice department to get away with the most peculiar antics (such as frequent isolation of refugees).
It is impossible to detach the detention of refugees from the developments on a European level.
An economical restructuring is taking place on a global level. There is a large increase in the number of mergers in the business world and in the forming of ever more powerful multinationals. The profits have been decreasing for some time now and the utmost is done to pep them up again. The business world has created project Europe 1992. The major goal of this project is to set up a free market zone in Europe in order to turn Europe into a single economic power block. It were the above developments and the ever advancing computerization which produced an increase in unemployment; not the arrival of migrants, refugees and/or illegal aliens. A second aim is to "protect" this power block against the refugee and migration movements into Europe. One of the means is the - far from democratically reached - Schengen agreements. Rights of refugees and migrants are severely curtailed and they provide the possibility of detention. All this has a tense relation with international law, to say the least.
There are numerous motives for people to leave their country of origin. In the past decade the number of asylum seekers in Western Europe - and therefore in Holland - has increased. For the government this increase is a reason to pursue an increasingly restrictive admission policy regarding refugees. This restrictive policy is argumented with clauses like: "the Netherlands are full", "the possibilities to receive refugees are limited and the costs are becoming too high" and: " More and more the refugees can be classified as 'economic' refugees". Denial of the motives of the asylum seekers for fleeing prevails. Expulsion is legitimized by dubious arguments: the dictatorship is not too bad (Zaire), war is livable (Libanon), rape and torture belong to the accepted pattern of culture (Sri Lanka, Turkey), people fleeing from famine and death by starvation are economic profiteers (Bangladesh), etc. Refugees are more and more portrayed as fortune-hunters and they obtain only a marginal position in Dutch society. In this way a negative image is created of the refugees, provoking reactions from the population ranging from negative to rejective. The decreased public support sets the policy pursued in an even higher gear, resulting in a viscious circle.
Consequently the refugees policy is in particular aimed at restricting the number of asylum seekers. One of the ways to do is by stopping the refugees at the earliest stage possible. This gives them less chance to lodge an appeal, to wait for the verdict or to elaborate on their story and give a calm and clear explanation. The policy is growingly aimed at preventing flight from the country of origin (boarding checks). Should a refugee succeed in by-passing this check, the socalled "gatechecks" at Schiphol form a second barrier. After these checks a first selection is made, during which part of the refugees disappears directly into the border prison. According to Justice the function of this border prison is to lock up "prospectless" refugees who come to the Netherlands to seek asylum. In a first interview the contact official decides that the refugee has no chance to get asylum in the Netherlands. What the conclusive arguments are, is unclear. It may be the sole fact that the refugee comes from a country with which "nothing is wrong", according to Justice. Still the Ministry tries to preserve the myth of fair individual consideration for each refugee. It is striking that during the entire procedure hardly any checking on what is going on is possible.
Refugees in the border prison have no access to the Netherlands and their only possibility to make contacts is via Justice. Nobody else gets to hear their stories. Should they not be imprisoned, the chance that they do get more contacts - and therefore the opportunity to enforce their asylum application - grows. The border prison therefore mainly has a deterring effect. Justice wants the story to go round that it is better not to seek asylum in the Netherlands, for one is imprisoned rightaway. A third reason for the existence of the prison is that it makes the "refugee problem" look controllable. The impression is created that the problem is dealt with.
In the coalition agreement a principal point of departure regarding immigration, foreigners and minorities policy is that the Netherlands are no immigration country. The facts are different. The Netherlands are an immigration country, and this fact is not only due to family reunion, which is the reason that in fact there are more people settling in the Netherlands than leaving the country. The Netherlands - and more in general Western Europe - is an immigration country due to many factors, of which the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth, the grown traffic potential and especially the infringements of human rights and the growing number of (civil) wars are the most important. Besides there is the - partly connected - demographical development. In Western Europe the population growth shows a declining trend whereas in the poor and empoverishing part of the world the population grows explosively. As a result the migration pressure on the Netherlands (Western Europe) will remain to exist in the next few years.
Migration is linked to the necessity of survival. It is a reaction of people to the poor conditions they live in. The majority of the migrating people can do nothing but literally try to escape the poor conditions they are living in and settle in another country. Only a small part can let the expectation of what one is to experience elsewhere weigh in the choice of the country to leave for. The affluence in Western Europe creates the expectation of democratic rights, freedom and an economically humane existence. Once the refugee has arrived here, this expectation fails to come true.
Migration movements have always existed and the larger the differences between for instance the rich and the poor, or freedom and oppression between the various countries or regions, the larger the migration. Most people are already forced to flee to countries which are highly impoverished themselves. An increasingly small number succeeds in coming to Europe.
The refugee policy pursued is also a result of the racist look the West has always had on the non-white world. A central issue is that our parliamentary democracy, our economic interests and our culture have a surplus value over all others. On this the right is founded to protect oneself at the cost of the others against the others. This superiority idea of We above They plays a part both internationally and nationally. They are the migrants, refugees and illegal aliens.
The growth of racism and intolerance regarding refugees is not as much based on the rise of the extreme right as well as on government statements and policies. First of all, the government and the existing political parties were the ones to start with the slogan "the Netherlands are full" and with an unholy illegal aliens discussion, and it is the government which tries to turn the refugees and illegal aliens into criminals. This has little to do with an enormous pressure from the population. The population - amongst whom there is often latent racism - on the contrary is roused by all these stories, which may result in active racism.
The consequences of cut-backs and the helplessness of the man in the street also play an important part. For the time being much more people are victim of a refugee and illegal aliens policy verging on racism than of the political influence of the extreme right.
Refugees will keep coming and many of them will stay here illegally. The government will continue to opt for increasingly restrictive measures running counter to international law (human rights), instead of dealing with the causes for people to flee. The measures will become increasingly hard to sell to the public when more people start to commit themselves for refugees and do not accept the policy pursued.
In our view a basis for change seems to be in the fight for fundamental human rights and the protection of them; food, a roof over one's head, a perspective of living without oppression. These rights must have priority over economic self-interest. The refugee himself is not a problem, but he has a problem. If nothing is done to fight the roots of these problems, people will keep on fleeing. If we want to give shape to a different refugee policy we must bring up for discussion the economic and ideological domination of the "Third World' by the West, and develop alternatives. We have need of a different kind of thinking and a different kind of mentality in order to find actual solutions.