Dutch asylum policy has gained more attention this year than ever before. Three children’s faces have figured prominently in the newspapers and on TV – Sahar, Mauro and now the Eritrean Jossef.
Distressing situations for these young asylum seekers have produced much public outcry and attracted the attention of the foreign press.
Nine-year-old Jossef Abuzeynrea came to the Netherlands as an asylum seeker eight years ago. He doesn’t want to leave, as he explains:
“I just don’t want to go away because then I will have a lot of names to remember. I find it really difficult to make new friends in a new place.”
Jossef and his mother are threatened with deportation to Eritrea. The only concession Immigration Minister Gerd Leers has made is that until the time comes, they may remain in the refugee centre in Alkmaar and will not be moved to another location for asylum seekers. Jossef could not cope with yet another move, concedes Mr Leers.
Jossef’s case is receiving a lot of attention in the Alkmaar area. Both the local newspaper and the population of the North-Holland town are campaigning in support of Jossef and his mother. Elsewhere in the country, his case is raining tweets on Twitter.
Previously, there was similar public sympathy for the 14-year-old Afghan schoolgirl Sahar Hbrahim Gel and the Angolan asylum seeker Mauro (18). For both, a solution was found. Sahar can stay, while Mauro can remain in the Netherlands until he has completed his studies. Without all the emotion and public action in support of these two kids, they would certainly have been deported.
According to professor of immigration law Heinrich Winter there is indeed an increase in the number of young asylum seekers who are likely to be deported:
“Previously, ministers holding this portfolio have been a bit more generous in granting residence permits. They have powers of discretion. The minister could now say: I am going to differ from my usual policy and I will give a residence permit.”
Since April, the Netherlands has a Children’s Ombudsman in the person of Marc Dullaert. He thinks that all the attention and ad-hoc solutions for individual cases of young asylum seekers should be a thing of the past:
“I think there should be a policy for children who have lived in the Netherlands for five years or longer, and are rooted here. It makes no sense to handle every case individually.”
Dream and reality
Asylum expert Heinrich Winter believes that the majority of MPs in the Lower House agree with the Ombudsman. But the government also has to contend with the demands of the anti-immigration party PVV that helps it to keep its majority. The PVV view is that asylum seekers should simply be deported.
There are probably another 800 children in similar situations to Mauro, Sahar and Jossef. But this number is unlikely to increase further. Under the current government’s asylum policy, young asylum seekers should know much more quickly where they stand.