'A Stinking Open Wound': Unauthorized Migrants in Amsterdam

Several months ago a group of unauthorized migrants protested against the Dutch state’s refusal to grant them asylum although they had no possibility to go anywhere else. They set up a camp outside the asylum centre as a political protest. Unless they agree to work towards their return, which is impossible, these stateless people get no help from the Dutch state for housing. The idea is that by making life as miserable as possible these people will go away by themselves. The Dutch state responded to the protest by evicting the occupants and making it impossible to protest their again by building a fence surrounding the terrain.

The camp then split in two; one tent camp in Amsterdam (mainly Somalis) and one in The Hague (mainly Iraqis). Others originate from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran, Afghanistan and Azerbajjan. The camp in Amsterdam is supported by churches and mosques and several volunteers from those circles work there in order provide safety, food, shelter and so on. The camps was more than a temporarily housing, it was a means through which they could protest the Dutch aylum policy. In their protests they often emphasized the shared humanity and communitarianism.
Last week, Dutchnews.nl reports:
DutchNews.nl – Amsterdam refugee camp to be cleared by Friday

Some 130 failed asylum seekers who have set up camp in Amsterdam’s Osdorp have been told to clear their tents by Friday.

Judges have ruled the camp must go because of safety fears and Amsterdam’s mayor Eberhard van der Laan has given them until Friday morning to comply.

Judges said there are serious hygiene issues at the site because there is no running water and rubbish is not cleared. In addition, the camp is proving a nuisance to people living in the area.

What the judge also mentioned is that a Dutch far right group, Voorpost, locked the camp recently by using an ‘unbreakable chain’ stating that these ‘illegals where in the right place then: locked and behind bars’. They referred to the camp as a ‘stinking open wound’. There also have been demonstrations supporting the residents of the camp. The judge feared more disturbances also because of an apparent growing hostility of neighbourhood residents (in particular youth).

Dutch media reports and politicians mostly focus on the issue of nuisance for the neighbourhood; not about the fact that we have about 140 people who have nowhere to go and endure terrible conditions of the cold and wet Dutch weather in tents. Apparently these people do not deserve our compassion and concern; it is the outsider’s concerns that dominate here. Ben Langer in a blogpost on refugees in Canada refers to an article by S. Willen Migration, “illegality,” and health: Mapping embodies vulnerability and debating health-related deservingness. Willen writes about unauthorized migrants:Narrowing Our Moral Community of Concern: A Critique of Canada’s New Refugee Policies – Ben Langer « ACCESS DENIED

“they are excluded not only from the political community, but also from the moral community of people whose lives, bodies, illnesses, and injuries are deemed worthy of attention, investment, or concern” (2012: 806). Only by portraying these extremely vulnerable people as “undeserving” (Willen 2012) can Canada deny them care while at the same time maintaining an air of generosity.

Now the judge clearly does not deny these people’s rights for health and safety; his (justified) concerns however result in the camp being evicted last Friday while the people have no notion of where to go to. There is an offer by about 10 municipalities who want to provide a ‘sober shelter’ until 2 January (it can’t really be any more sober than what they I have now I think). A similar use of real or imagined concerns of safety is to be found among people objecting to the camp stating that, for example, bulldozers should clean up the mess. Also, referring to the whole camp, people are talking about ‘cleaning up’ when they mean it should be evicted and cleared. This reminds me of the anti-occupy rhetoric from the authorities and press often denouncing them as dirty, unhealthy and unhygienic. For more on dirt and the occupy movement see the article by Max Liboiron Tactics of Waste, Dirt and Discard in the Occupy Movement and his photo-essay. (H/T Material World)

Such rhetoric divides the world into a neat dichotomy: the us (clean, healthy) and them (dangerous, dirty and unhealthy). It renders us to be normal, citizens and the dominant order while them are trash that has to be cleaned up. As Mary Douglas taught us, labelling something as dirt (matter out of place) has to do with distinguishing and maintaining social values and social order by making clear what is acceptable, normal and expected or how society should be. Immigrants are already seen as a threat to social order and it is not difficult to imagine that unauthorized immigrants who cannot be banned, then are a great problem for a society that is pre-occupied with order, cleanliness and purity anyway. Such dichotomy renders invisible the painful questions we would like to avoid. As Markha Valenta argues on Open Democracy:
The moral sadism of the Dutch State | openDemocracy

The state is afraid, because the strangers are raising issues it does not dare to face: should asylum seekers have the right to influence the policies by which they are judged? Are refugees “human” from the moment they enter Europe? Or are they to be “nothing” unless and until they have the good luck to become residents and citizens?

This tells the story in Amsterdam. But right now all over Europe – in Vienna, in Hungary, in Berlin – there are the same protest camps, the same refugees, the same overbearing states and clusters of local protest. Small, scattered and disparate as they are, they raise a fundamental question that Europe does not know how to face any better than the economic crisis: do we dare to be humane, even at the cost of being just a little less rich, a little less a fortress, and a little more just?

To conclude a note on the protestors and the type of eviction. Well the different groups of protestors actually on Friday when the camp was evicted. There were the unauthorized migrants themselves who protested against the Dutch government putting them on the streets without any help and with nowhere to go. Second there, as they call themselves, the sympathizers. Those who, as they see it, did the real work of supporting the migrants by providing food, shelter, warm clothes and so on. Third, there are the protestors of the third day who came to protest against the eviction by the police. A common name for all three groups, but in particular the last one, is ‘silly leftists’ or ‘demo-silies.’ In particular the latter group is accused of having no real connection with the migrants and instead only promote their, sometimes seen as strange or peculiar, leftist political demands and as such using the migrants for their own political cause. Whatever you might think of the activists outside the camp, it is quite clear that the camp received quite some support from lawyers, neighbours, churches, mosques and some of the media. Quite some means not a lot; the support demonstrations was small and there was no political support at all.

As we all know, the Dutch state is a civilized state. We did not see outright violence; not on the part of the migrants nor on the part of the Dutch state. The whole handling of the protest and the eviction of the camp was the work of bureaucracy. The status of the migrants is ‘just a technical issue’ and there is, according to the state, nothing wrong with its policy. It is just that the migrants refuse to cooperate (how?) and that the countries of origin also refuse to cooperate. No word about for example why we actually have migrants from Iraq? Could it be that there is a relation with an illegal and unjustified war in Iraq and its current instability? Do we really think we have a tough but humane policy when we deny stateless people any possibility of living a life in this country? We have a duty to protect people who cannot safely return home but when their countries become really unsafe we tighten our migration restrictions (see also the case of France). Also the eviction was a technical issue that treats the migrants as criminals and sending them off to nowhere or to a few temporary (of course) alternative housings. It took very long and they booked every individual migrant, one by one. After that the terrain of the camp was cleaned by men in white suits; as such covering up the real stinking wound: the inhumane and irresponsible Dutch asylum policy.

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