Weekly police raids, harsh living conditions, constant threaths of violence, arrest and detention by authorities, these are just some of the things that more than a thousand children in the Netherlands have to deal with. As part of refugee families whose asylum application has been turned down by the Dutch state, these children live in family camps spread over the country. Even though in the last years different organizations have campaigned against these human right violations and studies have pointed out the intense emotional harm these children face, the Dutch state has done nothing but building a new prison for refugee families who are about to be deported. At this point several families have formed a collective with political activists. Next to local demonstrations at the family camps, they call out for international support to pressure the Dutch state to end the violations of the children’s rights and those of their families.
Throughout the past nine years the Netherlands have been heavily criticized for violations of human rights by different UN Committees. Within these years it happened on at least twenty different occasions that concerns were expressed in several reports. They touched upon various topics such as the extension of maximum pre-trial detention from ninety days to two years, the increase of ethnic profiling and preventive body searching by police and the rise of intolerant tendencies such as racism, anti-semitism and specifically Muslim-hate. Almost half of the UN reports concerned the treatment of asylum seekers. In the Netherlands immigration detention continues to be used excessively, even in case of little or no prospect of actual deportation, undocumented refugees are denied access to basic needs such as food and shelter. Furthermore, stateless asylum seekers are confronted with infeasable demands for their procedures. Even though the Netherlands in 1995 signed the Convention of the Rights of the Child, recent criticisms show how these rights are being violated by the state in case of many refugee children.
It might seem unreal, but more than a thousand children in the Netherlands have to deal with unexpected police raids on a weekly base. These children live with their parents in so-called “family locations” that are spread over the country. The camps are designed for refugee families whose initial asylum application has been turned down by the Dutch state and are in await of their forced return to their countries of origin. The conditions in the camps are harsh, especially compared to Dutch living standards. The families are housed in single rooms without any privacy, weekly allowances are below minimum, parents are submitted to daily in-house registration, there is a lack of proper physical healthcare and an absence of mental healthcare, while the stay in these camps often is for several years.
However, what is ultimately disruptive to the well-being and development of the children at these camps, is the constant threat of arrest and detention. Once or twice a week a team of migration police officers raids a family location. Just before dawn up to ten officers will barge into a room to arrest one of the refugee families. While neighbouring families are kept at a distance by force or intimidation, the arrested family is granted just five minutes to pack their belongings. What is not packed, has to be left behind.
Statements of witnesses reveal that these arrests are reportedly executed with the use of violence, even if young children are amongst the arrested refugees. There are testimonies of pushing, pulling and hitting, but also of the deployment of police dogs and stun guns.
Once arrested, the children and their parents are transferred to the family prison. It occurs that teens are handcuffed or that children are separated from their parents during the transport.
According to international migration laws detention is only to be used as a last resort and many EU countries succesfully search for more humane alternatives. Yet in the Netherlands the use of immigration detention is still default with no exception for children. The family prison at Camp Zeist is one of the three detention centers in the Netherlands. The cells have been replaced by wooden cabins at the newly constructed family prison, but testimonies from children make clear that the experience is that of a prison nevertheless. From Camp Zeist the families are deported, even though the children have spend the majority of their lifes in the Netherlands and have virtually no connection to the countries their parents once fled from.
Studies clearly show that the stay at the family locations as well as the constant threat of raids, detention and deportation have a harmful impact on the well-being and development of children and teens. As prof. M.E. Kalverboer, professor of Child, Pedagogy and Migration Law and current Child Ombudsman states in an extensive research on rootedness in refugee children : “Almost all children that were involved in the study experience severe emotional problems. These children are very scared, withdraw with their worries and are depressed. They do not sleep well and often have nightmares. They experience an extreme amount of stress. They grow up in very difficult circumstances and this is a serious threat to their development”.
NGO’s as Defence for Children and UNICEF have campaigned for the past years against the violations of the Rights of Children at the family locations, urging the Dutch authorities to close down the camps completely.
But with the newly constructed family prison and the firm intention of the IND, the Dutch Home Office, to increase the number of forced returns, it is obvious these practices are not about to stop.
Refugees from the family locations have now formed a collective together with political activists to protest against the raids, detention and deportation of children and their parents. They urge the international community to take notice of the inhumane treatment of these children and the damage that is inflicted upon their lifes. They invite the community to investigate and denounce the violations of the Convention of the Rights of the Child that are committed under the auspices of the Ministry of Safety and Justice, responsable for migration policies.