08. September 2014 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Amsterdam: Geschichte des We Are Here Movements · Kategorien: Hintergrund, Lesetipps · Tags:

Find on this blog a brief overview on the 2 years history of the We Are Here movement in Amsterdam and some current (very sad) circumstances:


The nature of a society is exposed at its margins

Human rights and refused asylum seekers in the Netherlands.

Since 2012, a group of people from a number of countries have formed a group in Amsterdam called “We Are Here”.

There are men and women, old and young. Some have been here for many years. Others are relative newcomers. What do they have in common? They all came to the Netherlands in search of protection. Another common factor is that they have all since been denied residence. Their asylum claims refused, or their temporary refugee status taken away. They have been ordered to leave the country but have refusedto do so, either because they fear for their lives if returned to their countries of origin, or because they don’t have the paperwork necessary toreturn.

In the Netherlands, refused asylum seekers who do not cooperate with theirdeportation do not receive provisions, such as food or shelter, from the state. Since 2010, municipalities are banned from offering them emergencyshelter.[1] This means that these people end up on the street, and are dependent on churches and charities for help.[2] They live in the shadows,struggling to survive.

In September 2012, a number of people in this situation came together inAmsterdam and decided it was time for change. They wanted to be visible and to make their situation known. They stepped out of the shadows anddeclared “We Are Here”, and ‘we need solutions’. The group gained national attention when they set up a tent camp in Osdorp, where they lived forover two months. When the tent camp was evicted, some members of the group were put in immigration detention and the rest were turned back out ontothe streets.

Their next ‘home’ was the Vluchtkerk (refugee church) a squatted emptychurch that was turned into a cold, but at least dry, shelter where the group spent the winter. They stayed here for six months before beingevicted again. Since then, the group has moved 8 more times, as buildings are squatted and then after varying amounts of time, evicted.

At one point the authorities in Amsterdam offered the group six monthsshelter in a former prison known as Vluchthaven (Refugee Haven). Many of them took up the offer, but others were refused as they were not on theoriginal lists of those that had handed their cases over to the Dutch Council for Refugees. Other members of the group refused the offerthemselves due to traumas with prisons arising from earlier spells in immigration detention or persecution in their own countries. Temporaryshelter was found for a number of women and sick people. The others were literally back on the street again.

Throughout all this, the group has done everything they can to drawattention to their plight. They have held many demonstrations, engaged with local and national politicians, and held campaigns through socialmedia. They have built a large group of supporters from all walks of life, who have helped them to survive.

The group is currently split over a number of locations including a garage(Vluchtgarage) and a squatted building (Vluchtgebouw). The conditions in these buildings are abhorrent. More than 100 asylum seekers are crampedinto small spaces and there is often no running water, sanitation, electricity or heating. They are dependent on supporters to bring themfood and clothing, and often to give them a place to shower or wash their clothes.

The conditions have been taking their toll on the asylum seekers in bothlocations, both physically and mentally. There is often not enough food for everyone and the stress of the conditions combined with constantuncertainty about the future, fears of detention or deportation, and traumas from the past have a heavy psychological impact. Many of the grouphave fled from violence and conflict situations, and suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Organisations such as Amnesty International, Kerk in Actie (Church inAction), and the Dutch Council for Human Rights have spoken out numerous times about the unsafe conditions and volatile situation in which thegroup exists.
On 18 June 2014 the Dutch Council for Human Rights (College voor deRechten van de Mens) visited the Refugee Garage and reported the following:

More than 100 men aged between 18 and 65 years currently live in the‘vluchtgarage’. They come from (amongst other places) Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia. The property has toilets, but no showers or hotwater. It is difficult for them to wash themselves and their clothes.
Also, the power supply is not working properly. The men are dependenton donations for food, clothing and beds. Twice a week volunteers bring food, but this is not enough. The result is that disputes ariseabout food. The men have no privacy, and sleep and live close together in small rooms. Due to a shortage of space, the inhabitants now spreadout into the garages and parking deck. The living conditions lead to tensions. The ‘vluchtgarage’ offers them although a roof over theirheads, but it is not a safe place. Some men also indicated that they had requested medical care in the hospital but had been turned awaybecause they have no insurance.”[3]

The Council initiated talks with the city government and the Ministry of Security and Justice amongst others, and issued the following warning:

The situation in the Amsterdam ‘vluchtgarage’ is getting out of hand. Therefore the Dutch Council for Human Rights calls on both the city ofAmsterdam and the State Secretary for Security and Justice to take direct measures to remedy the extreme hardship. Prevent that things goso far that people actually die.”[4]

Nothing was done.
Last week, the fears of the Council came true.

Somali asylum seeker Nasir Guled died in hospital after ending up in acoma following a fight with several others at the garage. He had been in the Netherlands since 2008, after fleeing Somalia because he feared forhis life after his brother was a victim of violence.[5] With tensions running so high in the garage this was not the first fight to have brokenout. It was however the first to leave a man dead, another two in police custody, and the rest of the group with another trauma to deal with.


Nasir Guled

Another man, Ibrahim Toure, also ended up in hospital last week afterfalling through a banister in the stairwell of the other building where the “We Are Here” group is living. He is still in intensive care withextremely serious head and back injuries.

The huge numbers of asylum seekers dying at the borders of Europe has beenmaking headlines recently. Much less attention is given to those living in the margins of our own society.
Human rights, it seems, are not guaranteed for all, even in theNetherlands. The “We Are Here” group has done a lot to make visible the plight of refused asylum seekers. There are however many more people inthe same position as this group currently in the Netherlands. The conditions in which these people are living, or existing, are no lessshocking.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for thehealth and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, andthe right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood incircumstances beyond his control.

This is elaborated further in the following legislation: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
• The European Social Charter (ESC)
• International Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)
• European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)
• International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination(ICERD)[6]

In January 2013 the Conference of European Churches (CEC) lodged acomplaint against the Netherlands with the European Committee of Social Rights regarding the lack of basic provisions afforded to refused asylumseekers. (Conference of European Churches (CEC) v. The Netherlands (Complaint No. 90/2013).[7]

In a preliminary ruling in October 2013, the European Committee of SocialRights issued a decision on immediate measures[8], stating that undocumented migrants evidently find themselves at risk of seriousirreparable harm to their lives and their integrity when being excluded from access to shelter, food and clothing.”

The ECSR implored the Dutch government to:

Adopt all possible measures with a view to avoiding serious,irreparable injury to the integrity of persons at immediate risk of destitution, through the implementation of a coordinated approach atnational and municipal levels with a view to ensuring that their basic needs (shelter, clothes and food) are met.”[9]

As of yet, no action has been taken by the Dutch government. In July 2014the ECSR issued their final ruling in the case. In line with the ECSR rules of usual procedure, this statement was first sent to the Committeeof Ministers of the Council of Europe and confidentially made ​​known to the parties involved. It is only after a resolutionby the Committee of Ministers, or after a maximum time span of four months, that a decision will be published. Until now, the State Secretaryfor Security and Justice, Mr. Fred Teeven, has made it clear that he is not yet going to take any steps to comply with the recommendations of theECSR.

Since the death of Nasir Guled, organisations including Kerk in Actie,Amnesty International and The Dutch Council for Human Rights have again called upon the Dutch government to take immediate action and offer basicprovisions to refused asylum seekers at risk of destitution. The Mayor of Amsterdam, Mr. Eberhard van der Laan, has again said that his hands aretied, maintaining that as long as national policy forbids municipalities from offering provisions to refused asylum seekers, he can do nothing.
Again, the State Secretary, Mr. Teeven has refused to take immediatemeasures, proclaiming that to offer provisions to those who do not have the right papers to be on Dutch soil, would be to declare the asylumsystem “bust”.

The decision of the ECSR was not the only time that the Netherlands hasreceived such a signal from the international community. In May 2014 a German court refused to send a Somali asylum seeker back to theNetherlands. Although the man had previously applied for asylum in the Netherlands and had been refused, the German court refused to apply theDublin Regulation, which asserts that an asylum claim must be dealt with in the first EU country in which an asylum seeker sets foot. The courtstated that the man, if returned to the Netherlands, ran a considerable risk of being subjected to ‘inhumane treatment’.[10]

The German court affirmed that ‘Human values cannot be qualified byasylum policy,’[11]

Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever ournationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled toour human rights without discrimination.[12] The Netherlands is a party to many international human rights agreements, is currently ranked 4th in theworld in the Human Development Index (HDI)[13] and often holds a very high position in Human Rights rank indicators. As such, the country plays anexemplary role in the area of human rights.

Ignoring the advice of the European Committee of Social Rights, the DutchCouncil for Human Rights and organisations such as Amnesty International, while maintaining that to give refused asylum seekers enjoyment of theirhuman rights through access to basic provisions necessary for their very survival is not an option because it does not fit with the country’scurrent migration policy, is simply not good enough.

The reality remains that although the authorities would prefer that asylumseekers left the country as soon as their claims are refused, for a number of reasons there are still large groups of these people living here indire situations. It would be naïve to assume that policy in this difficult area of migration could ever cover all eventualities. Exceptional casesand situations that do not fit within the tidy edges of the policy will continue to occur. Third countries will refuse to cooperate in theprovision of travel documents, conflict will cause large numbers of people to flee and will leave large numbers stranded, mistakes will be made inasylum procedures and refused asylum seekers will do their best to avoid deportation back to situations where they fear for their lives. It isnecessary to work on resolving all of these individual issues simultaneously. It is unacceptable to let people suffer in inhumaneconditions and die on our streets why doing so.

It is therefore imperative that the human rights of all people who are onDutch territory are protected, and that basic provisions such as food, shelter, clothing and medical assistance are available to all people,irrespective of their immigration status or in the case of refused asylum seekers – their willingness to cooperate with their deportation.

While considering the situations of the huge numbers of refugees, asylumseekers and internally displaced people around the world today, we should not close our eyes to the plight of those in dire situations on our owndoorstep.

They say the nature of a society is exposed at its margins. What does thatsay about us?

Yoonis Osman Nuur from the “We Are Here” group tells his story atTEDxAUCollege.


[1] There are some instances where municipalities cooperate in offering emergency shelter to small numbers of refused asylum seekers. For example Stichting Noodopvang Dakloze Vreemdelingen Utrecht (SNDVU) which provides temporary shelter and (legal) support to asylum seekers who are not entitled to support from the Dutch government e.g. For example if they are in a regular legal procedure to obtain residence, are involved in the “Perspectief” programme, are working towards organizing their return to their country of origin but do not yet have the necessary paperwork, or they have an acute (medical) condition which means that they would not be able to survive on the streets. For more information see:
The municipality of the Hague is currently also offering temporary shelter to a group of refused asylum seekers (mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan)
(in Dutch)
[2] For example, since December 2013 a group of churches in Utrecht has provided a night shelter for undocumented men in the city.http://toevluchtutrecht.nl (in Dutch)
http://www.mensenrechten.nl/berichten/situatie-vluchtgarage-mensonwaardig (in Dutch)
http://www.mensenrechten.nl/berichten/situatie-vluchtgarage-mensonwaardig (in Dutch)
[5] Letters sent in July 2014 from Nasir Guled’s legal representative to the State Secretary of Justice and Security and to the Mayor of Amsterdam asking for help:
http://www.kerkinactie.nl/actueel/2014/08/protestantse-kerk-pleit-voor-veilige-opvang-vluchtelingen-in-nederland (in Dutch)
http://www.mensenrechten.nl/toegelicht/de-vluchtgarage-en-mensenrechten (in Dutch)
[7] Here you can read all the documents related to the complaint including the initial complaint, subsequent reactions from both the Dutch government and the Conference of European Churches, and the preliminary ruling from the European Committee of Social Rights:
[9] Conference of European Churches (CEC) v. the Netherlands, Complaint No. 90/2013
[10] Duits vonnis: asielzoeker loopt risico in Nederland http://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2014/05/10/duits-vonnis-asielzoeker-loopt-risico-in-nederland/ (in Dutch)
[11] Court ruling – full text (Verwaltungsgericht Darmstadt – Beschluss) http://issuu.com/pimvandendool/docs/uitspraak_darmstadt/6?e=7781744/7802646
[12] http://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/pages/whatarehumanrights.aspx
[13] http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/Country-Profiles/NLD.pdf

For more information about “We Are Here” see: https://www.facebook.com/WijZijnHier

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