Wednesday in Dutch class, the teacher circulated copies of a daily newspaper, and in pairs, we chose articles to read from the paper. Each pair was to give a summary of the article to the class and share five words they found moeilijk (difficult). Sounds straightforward enough. Although two women chose a harmless article about a new housing community named Groene Lanen (green lanes) most everyone else went for the meaty, tragic stories that filled the paper about Asylum seekers in Holland.
I paired up with a large, vibrant pregnant woman from Togo and we read about Louisa from Angola who had been in Holland since 2001 as an Asylum seeker. Over the past 10 years, Louisa had given birth to two more children and all three of her children were fluent Dutch speakers, only familiar with the Dutch way of life. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work. So, you can not earn a living, but must live off of government subsidies. Now, after 10 years, the Dutch government has refused her an extended right to stay in this country, and she and her children must return to Angola.
“Ik heb geen toekomst in Angola en mijn kinderen helemaal niet,” she is quoted as saying. She and her children have no future in Angola. Her children don’t speak any Portuguese and the Angolan culture is completely foreign to them. It seems that receiving Asylum in Holland is like entering a strange state of purgatory; you are in a foreign land, safe from the warfare and turmoil of your home country, but suspended in a bubble of ambivalence in your host country. You can not work, you are isolated in government supported project housing for refugees and your children are required to go to the Dutch schools. Thus, the children become completely immersed in Dutch culture, emerging as fluent, literate members of society with a Dutch mindset. Then, these children, regardless of being born in Holland, are returned to their “homeland”, which is the equivalent of Mars to them. It was unclear in the article if the parents are also given Dutch courses or information about integrating into society. I don’t imagine they sit in the government housing all day long, wiating for their children to return.
Everyone in the room, except perhaps me and the teacher, either had personal experience with this conundrum or had friends undergoing a similar situation. I don’t have any answers. I don’t know how it could be different, except for the idea that once you receive Asylum, you have an option to become a citizen of that country, with the rights to earn a living and become a contributing member of society. Otherwise, what is the Dutch government doing to these people by welcoming them to a land of promise, full of education, jobs and human rights, immersing their children in this mindest and then throwing them back onto foreign shores?
Of course they are protected from the atrocities of their homeland during their asylum. And, I suppose this state of refuge gives them the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of Dutch culture, perhaps creating the potential of being catalysts of change once they assimilate back into their original cultures. Or, is this just a romantic notion?
Coming up next: A trip to Amsterdam and free facials