By Safia Elwakil
Since last year the heart-rending deportation of the Iraqis and Mauro’s story “The Angolan boy” has made refugees the center of debate in The Netherlands. Their inhumane treatment emerged in mainstream media and people are starting to question the integrity of the IND (Integration and Naturalization) ministry, responsible for Dutch refugee policies.
Even though public attention dwindled about the subject there are still tragic stories that need to be told. Mai Elhaboubi, an Iraqi woman who came with her family to The Netherlands in 2008, left Iraq in the hope of a better life for her children. She wanted to provide with them the security and safety that they need in order to thrive. Since her arrival in The Netherlands, she and her family have not left the premises of the Katwijk refugee camp. Her family consists of Ali (7), Faja (10), Abd Elazziz (18), Hadil (20), and her husband Hesham. He is chronically sick and is not able to work, and Abd Elazziz suffers from obesity and receives treatment at the Obesitas center, where a dietician guides him.
Hadil has been accepted to pursue a medical degree at De Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, but unfortunately was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago and is receiving chemical treatment to curb the tumor. Due to restrictions refugees have to get a stamp at specific times every time they leave the camp. It already was hard for Hadil to go and attend classes, and her mother has been battling to get permission for her daughter, but due to Hadil’s illness, the girl is always too tired, and stopped going. She now studies at home.
Because of the husband’s condition, Mai is the one responsible for the family and with the little Dutch that she has learned, she tries to arrange everything: she meets with lawyers, applies for a residence permit and tries her best not to get deported. “We are still in the process of trying to get a permit on medical grounds, but it is sure taking too long.”
Overall, life at a refugee camp is heartless: families live there with their children and are secluded, deprived of any social interaction with the surrounding community. The camp has certain regulations to restrain them: they have to obtain a stamp 6 times a week and they receive a minimum of €4,20 financial aid daily. This makes it difficult for them to travel to neighboring cities, consequently it gets harder to meet locals and create social networks. Furthermore, children receive their lessons in the camp in order to prevent another Mauro story from happening. (Mauro is an Angolan boy who was going to be deported, but his Dutch peers and school pressured the Minister of Immigration and Refugees, Gerd Leers. The boy eventually received a study visa and was allowed to stay in The Netherlands until he finishes his studies.) For Mai and her family, there is no possible way out, unless they succeed in obtaining a residence permit, which is an energy- and time-consuming process that often lasts years.
In 2011 Mr. Andrew Fundingsland, a former Webster University lecturer, started a film project with the students for a film course, collecting footage inside the refugee camps and interviewing as many refugees as possible just to get the truth out about the insensitive Dutch authorities who treated the refugees as second-class people. At the time the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant wrote an article about the Iraqi families who were awakened in the middle of the night, secretly put on planes, and sent back to Iraq, and then left there at the airport with just €100 per person. When the matter received the media’s attention, Mr. Andrew provided them with the necessary information and footage.
Refugee camps are completely the opposite of the human rights culture acknowledged by the West. After escaping the horrors of a war zone, the least the West can do is to treat them as human beings, and create opportunities that give them a chance to continue their future plans.