Friday, September 29, 2006

8 year old Hui

I heard about Hui a few months ago on the radio. Like so many thousands of children and families, eight year old Hui and his mother are amongst the group of ‘’processed out’ [uitgeprocedeerde] immigrants and asylum seekers who have been refused a right to stay in the Netherlands. They often have been rounded up by people from the Immigration Service and placed in deportation (read: detention) camps awaiting deportation.

Last week Hui, an eight year old boy, made the headlines. He has been locked up in prison since 19 September 2006, because he does not have the necessary documentation to prove his status. And here in the Netherlands, having no official paper means you are a threat to society, and so must be locked up. Even if you are a child.

Together with her mother, the boy is in prison because the mother refuses to cooperate with the Immigration Service, so goes the official explanation. The mother claims that she does not have any official documents that will help with the deportation back to China.

Eight years ago, the mother came to the Netherlands seeking asylum as a single mother, and was then still heavily pregnant with Hui. At the age of 13 the mother, Xiu, lost both her parents and has been wandering around in China. She was smuggled to the Netherlands with the promise of a better future by a man who made her pregnant at 17. She is one of some 4000 ‘single under age asylum seekers’ (AMA's—Alleenstaande Minderjarige Asielzoekers) who came to the country before 2001 and now must return to their country of origin. Before reaching 18, and regardless of whether their asylum would be approved or not, they were entitled to receive support from the government to prevent them wandering the streets in this country. But the government decided last year to permanently deal with this large group of people by deporting most of them. Once given the deportation notice, they have three months to leave the country.

Hui was born in the country, and grew up like any other Dutch child. Six months ago he and his mother were put in a deportation camp, and recently relocated to a prison cell in “Kamp Zeist”—the high security prison where the Lockerbie trials took place, and a place where extremely dangerous criminals (the likes of terror suspects and the mafia) will be detained in. China refuses to accept the return of the mother and Hui because they have no valid passport. Here is a version of the story in video (in Dutch).

In a radio show dedicated to Hui’s appeal, Hui spoke on the phone TV presenter Sipke Jan Bousema. Here are some excerpts from the telephone dialogue:

How does it feel for you to be there?

Not fun.


It is very boring here.


Door locked up again, locked up door, locked up again. Sad [for] my mother because she cannot go outside so often.

How do you feel to be there?


Can you explain that?

You cannot take a lot of things with you. You can fill in a ‘order list’ [for things the 'inmates' want to use] but then you do not get it the same day. The day after or later. And there is also no school. Receive no lessons. Also no maths calculations.

What do you think of then if you feel sad?

About a prison with bars and so.

How many children are there at this moment?

(Mother): 8 children.

Of what age?
(Hui takes over the phone):
Oldest child ----- is 12 or 13 years old.

Then --- who is the sister of ---and she is 9 years old--- and she is 8 years old
And his brother is 5, 6 years old. And his sister is 2, 4, 5 years old. --- is 8 years old. And ---, she is 4 years old. And I am 8 years old, and that are all the children.


Why is it not right that there are children there? Why is that not good?

Everyone here is sad, it is already bad enough to be here, and then to go to the country where you came all the way to get here. I think that is unfortunate for them

Hui, can you describe again how the prison you are in now with your mother looks like?

It is a small room, ther are two small beds and there you must sleep in, a few curtains, there is a toilet in the corner, you don’t have remote control, you must go all the way to the TV, you have a very small bathroom, small tap and douche. Ehm, few tables, a fridge, and small microwave, tables, cutlery, and so, few cups and this is how the room looks like.

When does the door lock up?

At different times on Monday […]

And what if that happens, what do you think about it?

Not good.

What do you think about it? What do you feel then?

Uhm then I think that I am locked up, I feel then a little alone, even though my mother is there and so, I feel just about like that…and sad.


(with the mother)

How has he felt in the past weeks?

Yes, he feels that the door lock [up] and then he feels a little quiet and so. He says, mama not fun, I don’t find this fun, mama, can I ask when I can go out the door again. I say mama cannot do anything [about it], the door that is locked, that man there can open the door for you, mama cannot open the door for you. He doesn’t like it at all that he is locked up in a room and so.

Yes, and how is it for you?

Yes, we cannot go anywhere, sit in the room and so, watch television, yes, i do nothing in the room, you cannot do many things, watch television, you don’t do much more.

Are there toys for the children or books?

No, we did takemany books from [the deporation centre in Vught] to here, but they can’t be taken inside, so we can’t read books but uh, there is a library. But there are not many books for children, are very difficult all the books. There are not many books for children that I can read. Only very difficult books, yes, normally stories and so, not for his age. And his own books can’t be taken inside [the prison].

You can listen to the whole programme here (in Dutch).

Minister for Immigration and Integration says that for Hui and his mother, as well as another twelve children locked behind prison bars, there is "no other way". The justification is that the child needs to be with the mother, and because the mother is in prison for refusing to cooperate, the child must suffer as a result. But you must wonder whether alternatives have been considered in the treatment of such extreme cases. Children do not belong in prison, this is enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of Children to which the Netherlands is a party to. And how can an eight year old, or even a four year old be a threat to society?

First of all, “the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration” (Article 3) in all dealings between the child and any state organ. A boy of school-attending age (again, an obligation on the state to provide for this right under Article 28) should be able to grow up and live life in freedom and be free from fear and uncertainty. Article 16 calls for the freedom from “arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family”. Article 37 says that “[N]o child shall be deprived of his or her liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily.” If a child must be detained, and I personally cannot think of any reason why a child should be, the “arrest, detention or imprisonment […] shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.

Exactly because a child is vulnerable “by reason of his physical and mental immaturity”, and in many ways susceptible to traumatic experiences and memories, he “needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth". Living in prison is absolutely contrary to the guarantees of “the full and harmonious development of his or her personality […] in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding” the Convention calls states to provide. These rights and basic guarantee to a safe and secure life of a child are “non-negotiable”, and states are under a heavy duty to respect and ensure these rights are protected. To derogate or justify non-compliance the state party must be able to prove that it has done everything to prevent the rights of the child being trampled on, and that justification must be grounded on the severest of circumstances. It appears the Netherlands has not been able to do this.

See the banner at the bottom of the page:

Hui, 8 years old, in prion.
This can and may not be.

Noteworthy site:

“Dutch filmmakers wish to give a face to 26.000 asylumseekers, who have been here for over five years and may yet be expelled from the country.”

Go here for an archive of short clips about some of the many stories of asylum seekers (with English subtitles). The clips are only a few minutes long, but in sometimes very direct and sometimes implicit ways they all reveal the true lives and faces of the 26,000 asylum seekers who face an uncertain future. These two, one about the story of a Somali man, and another spoof on the popular TV show ‘Idols’, were my ‘favourites’.


Michael Bar said...

It is a very sad story. Thanks for bringing this to our attention. This blog paint a totally different picture of Holland from what I imagined. I always thought about Holland as one of the most liberal country in the world, and I never though that children can be treated like this.

Which makes me wonder, if this case (and maybe others) is clear violation of the law by the government, then how come no law firm files a lawsuit against the government? The government and the Ministry of Immigration are not above the law. There are human rights organizations that can help financially. There is a supreme court, I assume, that can force the government to change its policy. So how is it that there is not a single lawyer that would take this case?

Thanks David,

Formosa said...

Well, a local court just affirmed the government's policy, and it did so on the basis of jurisprudence from the Supreme Court. Basically, if you're an asylum seeker and have been refused a right to stay in the country, you simply do not have any rights to complain. Deportation is final, and cannot be challenged. It does not matter how long you have actually lived in the Netherlands, or where you are to go next, you simply cannot stay in this country, and every effort will be made to deport you. Detention is a measure at the Minister for Immigration's disposal to ensure compliance.

See the next blog.