Category Archives: #UndocumentedNL

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.


The Mis-Education of our Activists

On February 16, when at least 29 people of died of hypothermia on board of Italian coastguard vessels , the city squares in Amsterdam didn’t notice. There were no trending hashtags in remembrance of the first casualties of a recent, deadly decision in Europe’s asylum regime. No mass movements claiming to identify with the 300 people squeezed on the 3 inflatable rafts that were still missing. What we did offer, was silence. Silence when on February 19 Amnesty International released their statement about how the European Commission “offers no concrete solutions to protecting and saving lives”. Silence as our inboxes filled themselves with invitations to Amsterdam based commemorations of the assassination of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and local organizers failed to connect Shabazz’s urge for Pan Africanism to the calls for solidarity as they are shouted out by the undocumented members of our communities. Absence when the Brothers from the Vluchtgarage asked us to join them in court as they fought against the eviction of their current residence. Why, if we claim to understand institutionalized forms of anti-Black racism and xenophobia, do we continuously fail to include the tragedies and casualties of Fort Europe’s deadly shores and suffocating borders in our collective, politicized discontent?

Part of it can probably be explained by the fact that too many of us are hoodwinked by the false comfort of citizenship. Most of us have heard those particular statements and speeches that, despite their varying lengths, frames and flow, all boil down to the same sentiment: “We, too, are Dutch citizens. What kind of country allows its own citizens to be pushed, strangled, kicked, bent and broken by the long limbs of the law?” Translation: This burgundy passport of mine should be all it takes to remind you that we are equal.  When saying and/or believing this, one implies that within these Dutch borders, those who can identify  as citizens deserve a better treatment than those who can’t. I understand that it might not sound like that when it’s squeezed between a dozen decontextualized motivational quotes and an oppressive ‘joke’ or two but by clinging to citizenship like we are, we’re creating hierarchies of humanity, hierarchies of worth. By believing that our identity documents should protect us we rank ourselves above those who don’t have the papers Fort Europe demands.

Combine this with a worrisome lack of knowledge about the current political situations in West, Central and East Africa that force people to flee their homes plus a very narrow understanding of Africa’s histories and the Mis-Education of the Activist is close to complete. I’m exhausted by folks who derail conversations about current migration by bringing us back, back into time. “Who could possibly want to escape from Mali when Mali gave us Mansa Musa? Who wouldn’t want to live in the  countries that used to be known as  that  the Kanem empire, Shonghay empire or the kingdom of Kush?” Many of us can hold our own in conversations about ancient Africa. Some because they actually studied, others because they Googled just the right trivia to make it seem like they did but hey… conversations. Mind you that too many of us still haven’t outgrown statements like “we might be from Trinidad, Martinique, Suriname, Africa or wherever” and don’t see any problems with the singular forms with which we describe “African dance, spirituality and/or culture” but like I said… conversations.

Contrary to what is considered the sexy part of Africa’s histories, contemporary activists, leaders, heads of state and/or political happenings barely make it to our rhetoric. Sure, Nelson Mandela and Patrice Lumumba are often mentioned. Amilcar Cabral? At events that aren’t organized in Rotterdam… almost never. Hearing Thomas Sankara’s name (just the name, I’m not even talking about references to his work) already feels like spotting a unicorn but honouring the women who were/are activists? Let’s not even start about the women who’re activists and weren’t/aren’t First Ladies.
When we study, do we merely focus on the political visions we love to mention or do we also try to wrap our heads around how their views affect the lives of the people who’re connected to and impacted by their leadership? Do we know what happens when Western governments order the assassination of such a political leader or when terrorist organisations, who either oppose or support a country’s regime, wreak havoc? Do we realize how these ruler straight borders that were so randomly drawn during Europe’s Scramble for Africa impacted and continues to impact the lives, identities, alliances, social structures, political situations and safety of the people in many African states or regions?

We have to do better. Better and more. We can’t one day turn the rehashing of isolated quotes into a preach-athon if we don’t plan to act on it the next day. If we care anything about consistency we can’t possibly preach Pan Africanism and African Unity if we continue to base our right to protection on citizenship knowing that so many of our Comrades are dying or hardly surviving their quest to apply for it. Not getting… applying. And what happens when their applications get denied and they’re brutalized by some of the same systems? Who can they turn to if not to Captain Passport? If we think the answer to that question should be “Us!” then there’s absolutely no reason for our absence, no ground for our dismissal.

When will we collectively put our money where our mouth full of MalcolmMartinMandela quotes is? When will we understand enough about the current political situations in, for example, Mali, Niger, Sudan and South Sudan plus Europe’s war on Black presence to care about the undocumented members of the Black communities based in Western-Europe? When will this care mean more than a retweet here, a like there? When will the narratives of the undocumented members of our communities be included in all our conversations about and protests against anti-Black racism and institutionalized xenophobia in the Netherlands? When will the names of our undocumented comrades pop into our heads as we come up with the event and not just a few days before the event takes place or on the day itself?

We have to do better.

For articles, political updates, calls for action and statements with regards to the undocumented communities of the Netherlands, please check #UndocumentedNL on Twitter.