Situated in the north west of Europe, the tiny state of the Netherlands is a tough destination for migrants. Considering all the hardship and obstacles that migrants encounter on the road, I found it at times almost miraculous that people from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq or Eritrea reach this country at all. Arriving in the Netherlands means first of all that you did manage to leave your country, that you haven’t drowned in the Mediterranean sea, you haven’t been sent back to Turkey, you didn’t get stuck or imprisoned in one of the camps on the ‘Balkan route’, you haven’t been kidnapped, sold or enslaved by human traffickers in the African desert (or you managed to escape from them).
Once in the Netherlands, you have to make you way through the Dutch and European bureaucracy and procedures. The Dutch migration system and migration law distinguishes between regular procedures and asylum procedures. Regular migration is for example labour migration, migration for study, education or family life, if you have (core) family in the Netherlands. If you have a well-funded fear of persecution, or there is a violent conflict in your home country, you can apply for asylum.
The Dutch asylum system is very well organized. The institutions work relative efficiently but there are also very strict criteria for being granted a refugee status. And with the high influx of migrants in 2014 and 2015 they got stricter. As an asylum seeker have access to free legal aid, interpreters, and to organizations that support you during your procedure and life in the Netherlands. The asylum procedures take between one week and six months, depending on your country of origin and your situation. Documentation is hereby extremely important. During the procedure you will be provided by housing, healthcare and food. Once you have a refugee status, you are entitled to housing, healthcare, work or social welfare. There are social programs and organizations that help you with your new life in the Netherlands.
Anyone who considers applying for asylum in a European country should be prepared for the so called Dublin convention. It is called after a treaty that the European countries made in the city of Dublin, Ireland in 1990. It is supposed to be a common European framework to determine which European country is responsible for your asylum request. This system has been criticized a lot for its dysfunctionality and it is one of the many badly constructed things in the EU, but it is a reality that a lot of asylum seekers have to deal with. It says in short that the EU country responsible for you asylum request is the country where you are first fingerprinted, or the country that gives you a visa. It means, that you don’t really have a free choice in which European country you ask for asylum. There are some exceptions to this, for example if you have dependent family members in one European state (especially when you are a minor), you can eventually be transferred to your family members. Your fingerprints are registered in the so called Eurodac system and every European country can access this database. When you arrive in the Netherlands and you are previously fingerprinted for example in Austria, you will be sent back to Austria where your asylum request will be processed. If you don’t want to be sent to the country where you are fingerprinted, you can appeal.
The Dublin regulation is handled more or less strict in different EU countries. In the Netherlands it is taken quite seriously, with one exception: If you were fingerprinted in Greece, you will not be sent back to Greece. However, with the EU-Turkey deal this policy could change in the near future.
A downside of the Netherland as a migration country is that the situation for undocumented migrants is very difficult. Once your asylum procedure is rejected and eventual appeals have been unsuccessful, the Dutch government insists that you have to leave the country. If you can’t leave because you have no identification documents or don’t want to leave for other reasons, you have no legal status in the Netherlands at all. That means that you are not entitled for healthcare, housing, work or education and you are forced to live a life in the shadows. Also are the Dutch known for the frequent and extended detention of undocumented migrants, even if this improved a little after a ruling from the European Court of Justice.
Why we should support Asylum Links
Life of a migrant, wherever he or she is, can be extremely challenging, complicated and exhausting. Being on the move means facing uncertainty, danger, trauma, life-threatening situations. The ones on the move need the support of those who are settled and safe. One way of support is passing on information in order to make well informed choices for the future. Information that sometimes can make the difference between life and death. Volunteers in and outside Europe have been inspirational in their reaction to the migrant flows in terms of offering support on numerous levels. Fortunately there are organizations like Asylum Links that just do what has to be done in the name of humanity.
I want to end with a poem that says it all, written by the Swedish author and journalist Stig Dagerman in 1953.
Flight sought us out
A bird seeks flight. We did not.
Flight sought us out. That´s why we´re here.
You who weren´t sought out – yet possess your freedom,
help us carry the heavy load of flight!
A shackle seeks a foot. We chose to go forth.
The night was merciful. Now we are here.
You are too many – might say those who are free and safe.
Can there be too many who know what freedom is?
No one seeks destitution. We did not. It sought us out along the way. Now we are here.
To you who weren´t sought out: We know the weight of freedom!
Help us carry the load of being free!
Translated by Lo Dagerman