Monday, October 23, 2006

Treatment of deportees in the Netherlands

Shocking revalations remisnicent of Guantanamo Bay...

The current affairs programme Netwerk recently reported on the medical neglect of asylum seekers, which resulted in the death of a 2 year old boy. He couldn’t go to a regular doctor because he is an asylum seeker, so ended up consulting a medical clinic for asylum seekers (medische opvang asielzoekers). The nurse gave the boy paracetemol, but it didn’t stop the fever or diarrhea. The father went back to the clinic for more help on three separate occasions, but was only referred to a medical specialist four days later. Despite medical intervention, the boy died of a lung infection. This is not an isolated incident. Since 2000, nine asylum seekers have died from, among others illnesses, cancer, internal bleeding, chronic stomach upsets, because they could not go see a doctor.

In another episode, limelight was cast on the inhumane deportation of asylum seekers. Members of the Dutch Royal Constabulary revealed some shocking practices to force asylum seekers with no right to stay in the Netherlands out of the country. An internal report of the constabulary said that deportees must be forced onto the plane and deported through whatever means necessary. There are no guidelines which specify what can and cannot be done, admits a member of the constabulary, so basically they are able to do whatever they want.

Disproportionate levels of verbal intimidation and physical violence seem to be the norm.
A number of NGOs and the National Ombudsman also verified the accounts of asylum seekers exposed to great mental and physical coercion. All are subjected to strip searches, some handcuffed and put in cells for many hours without food or water before they are put on the plane. In a report by the National Ombudsman concluded the treatment as “not humane” (niet menswaardig), and suggested that even heavy criminals are not treated in such a way.

One Bosnian Muslim family was taken away from their home without warning and separated. The mother and children in one detention centre, and the father held somewhere unknown to the family members. One of the daughters was strip searched, while three male wardens stood by and watched. The youngest daughter who is on medication against epileptic attacks could not take the medicine with her. An Afghan was brutal maltreated by his escorts, who covered his face and nose that he almost died from lack of oxygen. One anonymous member of the constabulary reported his colleague engaging in derogatory racist abuse, and resorted to kicking and banging the head of the deportee against the wall. A Guinean deportee said attacks dogs, pepper sprays and fire hoses were used to coerce them onto the plane. The Immigration Service denies the use of violence in this specific case.

Many of those who refuse to be deported resist in whatever ways they can. Spiting, biting, sucide etc. The Constabulary have special means to prevent this, including the use of hand and foot cuffs, helmets, body constrainers. Many attempts to deport asylum seekers had to be cancelled because the scuffle and violence caused too much commotion on the plane.

Upon arrival in the country, it was reported that the escort constabulary often simply try to get rid of the deportee, sometimes by bribing government officials. There were instances of Cameroonian deportees brought to Nigeria and in order to get rid of the deportees were simply handed over to the Nigerian authorities. “People dumping”, the former Ombudsman called it, as long as the objective of removing the deportees from the Netherlands is achieved.

A recommendation by the Council of Europe (the pan-European institution which defends and protects human rights) warned that:

“All too often, persons awaiting expulsion are subjected, in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, to discrimination, racist verbal abuse, dangerous methods of restraint and even violence and inhuman or degrading treatment. All too often, the officials responsible for enforcing expulsion orders resort to an unjustified, improper or even dangerous use of force.”

A lot of the practices that seem to be occurring in the Netherlands (deprivation of food, detention of asylum seekers, prevention of breathing, denial of medical care, “proportionality and respect for safety and human dignity in any other measures taken during the expulsion procedure”) are exactly the ones that the Council has held should be outlawed.

A resolution adopted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly reminded the Netherlands of it obligations with regards to return of asylum seekers:

Council of Europe member states should promote the voluntary return of failed asylum seekers and that forced return should be considered only as a last resort. Where forced return is inevitable, it should be implemented in a humane and transparent manner in compliance with human rights and with respect for the safety and dignity of the person concerned.” [emphasis mine]

See the two part series “Wrapped up and away” (Inpakken en Wegwezen).

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