Saturday, October 21, 2006

Hui free!!!

After three weeks of detention, 8 year old Hui and his mother were suddenly released last week. The Immigration and Naturalisation Service will not give comment as to why, just vaguely said that “new information” has come up in the case. The lawyer of mother and child said:

,,We have not heard of anything like this yet. Strange, but we are happy that Hui and his mother are out of prison. It is going well with Hui, but the detention has made a deep impression on him.’’

Here you can see Hui's festive return to school.

They’ve been in detention for three weeks, and before that put in ‘deportation camps’ for many, many months because, the government says, that Hui’s mother wouldn’t cooperate with the deportation procedures. Locking people who do not have a right to stay in the country is a way to ‘persuade’ them to cooperate. And now suddenly new information is available about their status. Does this not have something to do with the strong consternation in Parliament? Or the fact that thousands of people, including Hui's classmates and their parents, demonstrated on the streets of Amsterdam and outside the high security prison Camp Zeist?

Hui’s case is not isolated, and by no means an exception. Just how serious the effect of imprisonment can have on a child, Inge Bulters, director of a school for children of refugees elaborates

“[…] 6 year old A. from Iran […] was first locked up with his parents in Rotterdam, after that eight months behind lock and latch in Zeist [high security prison]. […] It was a drama for that child, that lock up. Every time the door closed. For him, the worst fear is that he is taken away from his parents. That [became clear] when he saw something on television about Hui. I hoped that he would let that go. [But he did not]. Immediately he got nightmares. He dreamt that the police at the [asylum seeker centre] drove up and came to pick up him and all the other children. Even his parents cannot take away that fear from him.

[…] The asylum law is simply not right. People are locked up due to a sort of desperation. As if people will go if you lock them up. But people don’t do that […] You don’t want to know how many of our pupils get sleeping tablets to get through the night. This child came here after the vacation and does nothing but study, study, and study. She loves to get homework. We give her that too. It is her strategy of survival.

[…] I believe the worst of our asylum policy in the Netherlands is the fact that children are send through the Netherlands like post packages. On average a child of a refugee sees in a short time five schools. The newest record is a child who [went to] nine school in the Netherlands in ten months. That is so bad. Such a child wouldn’t be able to adapt any more, because [it] knows that [it] can be dragged away at any moment. They do not adapt any more as a sort of self protection, but the result is terrible. Children withdraw completely, or [become aggressive], learning achievement declines, they get social emotional problems. Then you haven’t even thought about what happen to these children once they become older. You see these children are becoming mature far too young. Many pupils must, for [the sake of] their parents. They protect the parents. Recently a child here broke a finger from a fall. The first that it said was: ‘Don’t call my mother.’ While such a child must of course be comforted by its mother. But in this case the child knew that the mother wouldn’t be able to completely handle [the situation].”

An extremely moving account, and at the same time underlines the consequences of an immigration/asylum policy that applies rules and regulations without regard to the human factor…

Well, in the media frenzy and attention that Hui and his mum have attracted, the Minister for Immigration and Integration gave a reaction, Verdonk. She said there will “soon [be] no child in prison any more”…and puts the blame on the parent for allowing the child to end up in prison.

“It is about illegal [immigrants] or people who, after a careful procedure the independent judge has determined that they have no future here. It is about people who we help to make that return a successful beginning in their country of origin.”

The problem with many of these immigrants with no right to stay is that they have no where to return to. Often, as in the case of Hui and his mother, the country of origin (China) does not want these people back, and does not even recognise that these people are in fact nationals of the country. Which effectively means that they are stateless, and have no country that will accept them. And circumstances in their home countries may be so chaotic and dangerous that it is almost like a death warrant for the parent and child to be sent back where they came from. For the Netherlands to deport them, regardless of their circumstance and status, is tantamount to saying we don’t care where wander off to or where they try to build up a life. The minister goes on to explain, and put the blame on the parents for the fact that children end up behind bars:

“But if the parents do not want to take their responsibility, then it becomes difficult. […] It is more difficult if single parents do not want to cooperate with the return [procedure] and per se want to keep their children with them. For them, there is nothing else than “foreigner confinement” [vreemdelingenbewaring ]. Because that is the alternative to an illegal existence. That is no life for parents with children and we do not tolerate that in the Netherlands.”

Funny…illegal existence, which may mean that the parent and child is at least free, is not tolerated but imprisonment is? The very point of departure dealing with single parents with children should be that detention is NOT an option of policy. There are still currently 12 other children in prison…an improvement perhaps from last year, when a staggering 235 children ended up behind bars, some for as long as six months!

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and fellow Dutchman, Jan Pronk has severely criticised Dutch policies with regard to (illegal) immigrants and asylum seekers in recent years. Earlier this week an MP, at a meeting discussing the fate of 26,000 immigrants who have been refused a right to stay in the Netherlands, bluntly said of the deportations:

“You’re awakened in the morning and the house is empty. That shock that you then get: people have been taken away. That shock, people have felt this earlier in situations in the Second World War […] I know in history of no other point with which I could compare that.

[…] Often between three and four am. Even if this is a very different situation, it sometimes reminds [one to think of] how the Germans came to arrest Jews before.”

Minister Verdonk said she was very hurt by the statement.

UPDATE 23 Oct 2006

A resolution adopted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly chastised the Netherlands for its plicy of returning some 26,000 asylum seekers deemed unable to stay in the country. Namely, in the application of rules and procedures, the human factor must be considered [emphasis below mine]:
  • "[...] that special consideration, through a procedure laid down by law, should be given to those failed asylum seekers who have established strong family, community or other links with the Netherlands, such as children who were born or brought up there, or failed asylum seekers who have lived in the country for a long time and have integrated there."

  • [...] the Netherlands [risks returning] certain people to a situation where they might be at risk of serious human rights violations or where their safety would be in danger because of the circumstances prevailing in the country or region of origin.

  • [...] under the revised policy of the Netherlands, detention, of potentially unlimited duration, could be resorted to as a punitive measure to sanction those who do not co-operate, or who cannot prove that they are co-operating, towards facilitating their own return. It regrets that this policy does not foresee any clear exemptions from detention for specific categories of failed asylum seekers such as children, the elderly, people suffering from trauma or mental illness and people with disabilities.

  • [...] policy of the Netherlands should be modified in so far as it allows, in some cases, for certain persons to be protected from expulsion where it is impossible to return them, whilst simultaneously depriving them of all access to housing, social benefits and health care. This is a particularly worrying development, especially regarding children in the light of the rights laid down in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It represents one of a series of measures increasingly used in a number of Council of Europe member states as a means of exerting pressure on failed asylum seekers to return to their countries of origin.

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