Thursday, August 24, 2006

Somalian children smuggling

Just watched a very touching report on Somalian children who were smuggled to the Netherlands as children on Netwerk. The current affairs programme revealed back in February this year that many young Somalian children were smuggled into the country in the early 90s by 'parents' who for financial gain. By taking their 'children' to the Netherlands, these 'parents' can claim social/child wellfare benefits, which can amount to significant amounts of money. But out of fear of being discovered as the children grow older and towards mature age, they are often dumped in their home countries, with no means of survival and no support.

One such child was taken to the Netherlands when he was just 5 years old, and his 'mum' told him when he was 14 that they were going on holiday. She took him to Somalia , and dumped him there. Luckily, this young man has been able to appeal for help at the Dutch embassy in Ethiopia (because Somalia has no Dutch embassy). He was able to prove his case and was granted the right to return the Netherlands and stay here as a citizen.

Many more of those who were smuggled as children who have undergone similar fates are not so lucky. The Dutch embassy insists that they should have proper identitification documentation and prove that they indeed had lived in the Netherlands. But how do they do that when they are stuck in Somalia? One young man wrote to his former school by email asking for assistance, but the school said that they cannot provide any help because they cannot be sure who wrote the email. With no family to lean on, no one to support them, no job and prospects, these victims of child smuggle are made to suffer again.

After details of such horrific practices were exposed back in February, Parliament conducted an emergency meeting, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Bot) and for Immigration (Verdonk) were pressured to relax rules on granting these former smugglees right of return.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs wrote the embassy in Addis Abbaba saying that such cases should be handled within 8 weeks and taken seriously, and that the Dutch authorities should do all they can to assist these people. Minister Verdonk, in her typical inhuman and staunch hardheadedness, however does not see how their victim status should automatically grant them the right to return and stay in the Netherlands.

Two people interviewed in the programme said they have been waiting for more than 6 months for a response from the Immigration Service. Clearly, the '8 weeks' and 'take-this-seriously' were just tough talk. However, surprise, surprise, right before the programme aired on television tonight, the two were suddenly called by the Ethiopian embassy and informed that they do have the right to return.

Was this a rash one-off decision made under public and media pressure, or has the Immigration Service come to realise finally that these are victims who are being made to be even more victimised because of their horrendous experiences as children?

Let's hope, for the sake of so many more out there, that it's the latter.

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