Illegalized, not illegal
During last month’s demonstration in The Hague, the Amsterdam based computer engineer Bahaeldin carried a sign with a crucial message: “I’m not an illegal, I’m an illegalized refugee who fights for justice.” In the Netherlands, refugees whose asylum application has been denied are more than often referred to as illegalen, “illegals”. From news articles and right-wing propaganda (in the few instances that the two aren’t synonymous) to conversations with self-proclaimed leftist volunteers who believe that working with traumatized Black and/or Brown people rids them of the ‘hassle’ of not being ‘allowed’ to use racist or other “politically incorrect” terms… in the Netherlands, refugees who’re no longer “in the system” are stripped of their humanity and reduced to a rejection.
Take NRC, one of NL’s main so-called quality newspaper that used “N*gg*r, are you crazy” as the title of a review discussing the new books of Ta-Nehisi Coates, Paul Beatty’s and Mat Johnson , for instance. Some of the paper’s headlines include: “No shelter for sick illegals” and “At least 20 municipalities keep offering shelter to illegals”. On June 12, 2016 one of their headlines read: “After their disclosure, these illegals were applauded and criticized.” The first sentence of the article was: “After graduating, the brilliant students Larissa Martinez (18) and Mayte Lara (17) announced that they’re illegal immigrants.” Imagine a social and political climate that produces and reproduces these ‘descriptions’ with such frequency that they are normalized. Unfortunately calling refugees whose asylum applications have been denied “illegals”, isn’t ‘just’ something for the physically and/or verbally violent right-wingers. It’s not just for the White Dutch people who tear up their village after an ‘informational gatherings’ about the town/village’s new asylum centre or who show up at anti-refugee marches in nazi(-esque) gear. Don’t get me wrong… NRC couldn’t be more trash if Manuel Valls, the French prime minister who stated that “Burkini’s are not compatible with the values of France”, used the paper to wipe the venom from the corners of his mouth. Still, they’re not an exception to the Dutch rules of dehumanisation. It’s been a long time since my Sisters and I attended meetings about and/or with illegalized refugees and we didn’t have to write each other a rant to rage about the “…but I’m a good person”-kind of volunteers who made it clear that we shouldn’t ‘always’ correct the way they describe/call people from sub-Sahara Africa “because you know what I mean and it’s been a long day.”
And of course there are demonstrations where people hold up protest signs stating “Nobody’s illegal” but, as with most statements about what ‘everybody’ or ‘nobody’ is or isn’t, I fear we’re hurrying past many realities that illustrate the differences between what we aim for and where we are. Especially in the Netherlands where generic statements (regardless of how loving and well-intended their roots are) smother many, many critical conversations. What does it mean to be illegalized? What does it say about the Dutch immigration service if so many of the people who were first illegalized still end up getting their residence papers? How does being illegalized affect one’s access to healthcare, shelter and/or education? What’s the humanitarian track record of the Dutch governments when it comes to deciding when someone’s quest for safety and other elements of survival are “against the law”?
With his sign, Bahaeldin urges us to move from the dream towards deconstruction. From there, we must reconstruct a narrative that takes us from survival to living and doesn’t let our humanity depend on sameness. Let us build.
Posted on September 4, 2016, in #UndocumentedNL, Afri-/Afrodiasporic communities in the Netherlands. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Illegalized, not illegal.