The people who are deemed undeserving of human rights. Amsterdam Osdorp refugee camp.
Sanne van Oosten and Davey Meelker
After having travelled throughout the world we thought we’d witnessed more than our fair share of impoverishment. We had never expected that our own home town, Amsterdam, would reveal the most hopeless situation we had ever seen. Today we hopped on our bikes and went to the outskirts of town, Osdorp, where we visited the Notweg tented camp, housing 80 illegal immigrants who were recently told that they couldn’t stay in the Netherlands because their home countries were safe enough to go back.
The people living in the tented camp are definitely not from countries that anyone else would categorize as safe. The eighty people, 26 women and 54 men, are from a total of 17 countries, predominantly Somalia, Congo and Sudan. Most came to the Netherlands a number of years ago and haven’t been able to work, go to school, rent a house, or get medical help, because their illegal status prohibited them from doing so. After waiting for years for a definitive answer concerning their immigration status they were told their countries were safe enough to go back. But they can’t. So they are staying here.
We arrived at the Notweg tented camp on a grey afternoon. The moment we walked into the camp a young man came up to us and introduced himself as Ali. He’d been in the camp for a month, and had been in the Netherlands since 2009. “I love my country, I had many friends and a great family. Here I have nobody to help me. But I couldn’t keep on living there either.” He showed us around the tented camp. There were four large army tents with stretchers and about a dozen small dome tents.
He slept in one of the army tents and gave us the grand tour. Inside were 25 stretchers lined up neatly with piles of all kinds of blankets on top. We were already feeling somewhat chilly, and it was the middle of the day. We couldn’t imagine how cold it would be in the middle of the night. Ali explained: “I always wear all the clothes I can get. And if I have to go pipi, I wait till the morning comes and the worst cold is over. But we don’t have a lot of water here anyway. I only care about water so I can drink, I don’t care about water so I can wash myself.” This is the kind of priority setting we hope we’ll never have to do.
He also explained that he has no place to go. “If I leave this camp, I’ll be arrested and sent to prison. If I try to travel to another place, I won’t get far. No drinking, no drugs, no robberies. They can arrest me just for having no papers.” Nevertheless, he was still positive about the police. “The police does come by here to check up on us, but they always see we aren’t doing anything bad and leave again.” This is the only place they can be, live or exist. But the oncoming winter is going to put a stop to that as well. Almost all the leaves are off the trees and it’s only a matter of weeks until the first frost sets in.
Another man introduced himself to us. His name was Ahmad and he is from Somalia. Due to the ongoing internal war in his country he fled to the Netherlands four years ago. Ahmad spoke better Dutch than any expat I’ve come across in Amsterdam. He explained how much he loves his country and the friends and family he had there, but also how he couldn’t stay there any longer.
When we asked him if he liked the Netherlands he started to smile. We thought his smile was somewhat strange, how could he smile when thinking of the country that was treating him like this? This is what he explained: “I’ve been in prison twice, they handcuffed me and locked me up only because I don’t have any papers. I hate Leers [the current minister of immigration of the Netherlands] for ordering us to be treated like this. But I love the people. The Dutch are so nice to us. They come here, give us clothing and food. So many people really do care about us. I am thankful to Osdorp, thankful to Amsterdam and the mayor Van der Laan and thankful to all the people in Netherlands.” It was heartwarming to hear all the stories of people helping them, but we were still stunned by the way he knew to stay positive. We don’t think we would ever be able keep such a positive spirit when faced with such hardship.
The Netherlands is a world leader when it comes to accusing non-Western countries of human rights violations. China is foolishly bashed on the basis of this, Myanmar was economically sanctioned due to this and many other countries have troublesome relations with Western countries for this reason. But how are the Dutch abiding to these human rights themselves?
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 14)? Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state (art. 13)? Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible (art. 29)? These people aren’t allowed to seek refuge in the Netherlands, they aren’t allowed to travel within the country and aren’t even allowed to work to make ends meet. Meanwhile they wait on the long-drawn-out procedure which they face without any legal representation. This process, in which the immigration service of the Netherlands decide if they are allowed to stay or not, often spans years, in some cases even decades. After this long procedure, they are being sent back to the countries from which they fled. Human rights and the Netherlands? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Click here for a photo report on our visit to the Amsterdam Osdorp tented camp at the Notweg.