We Are Here, for our Right to Be

This morning at 9 a.m. the judge decided that the camp of refugees may be evicted, if necessary by force. The Mayor of Amsterdam, capital city of the Netherlands, has ordered the eviction of the protest camp of refugees in the western suburb of Amsterdam called Osdorp. The approximately 100 refugees demonstrating in the camp are determined to stay where they are and face the police force and subsequent detention. They call on all people to witness this show down and show support in a manifestation in front of the camp and on the streets of Amsterdam. This event starts Thursday 29th of November at 2 p.m.. The eviction can be expected the morning after. We call for witnesses, observers and compassionate citizens to join and demand the right to live for all who are here. We intend to turn this crack down into a Theatre of Hope.

Yes we camp

 In Amsterdam and The Hague rejected refugees from Africa and the Middle East are enduring the harsh weather in make shift tent camps where they demonstrate against the Dutch way of treating rejected refugees since September 4th (Amsterdam) and 19th (The Hague). Since 2010 asylum seekers who have been rejected are no longer entitled to basic rights such as shelter and food. Even when it is impossible to return to their countries of origin, the Dutch government argues that they can leave voluntarily. Denying them access to reception centers, putting them in prison and forcing them to survive in parks, railway stations and insecure hiding places, that is the way to convince them to leave this country. In the first half of 2012 4.680 asylum seekers have been dumped on the street without any life support, according to the International Network of Local Initiatives with Asylum seekers (INLIA). These self-organized action by the refugees have highlighted a humanitarian problem that has been growing for years and was hidden from the public eye. Now these people have made themselves visible and seek solutions by entering in dialogue with civil society and democratic representatives. To realize their aims they need to be together, safe and visible. Apparently the authorities want to make them disappear again. The only offer is for some of the refugees to go for 30 days in dispersed shelters for homeless people. After that they would again be on their own, insecure and invisible. A growing number of supporters is trying to create sustainable ways to continue this struggle for human rights. One way would be to make a space available as a meeting point for refugees, a House of Hope.

 On their blog, the refugees that camp out in Amsterdam declared:

 “We are here because our life is in danger. There are many reasons for this. War is the most important one. There are several armed conflicts in Africa that cost many lives, disrupt families and livelihoods. Political violence and oppression, religious division, problems between tribes and clans add to make solutions complicated. Drought, famine and other economic factors also push people to find a better future elsewhere. All these cases are inter-related. We can see this in the extremist movements. They make life impossible for you if you do not conform to strict rules. Having a drink can cost you your life. Being a member of another tribe, or of another religion, can bring you into deep trouble. So we are here because we face persecution and danger in our countries. We need to be in the Netherlands because this country is a free country where our lives are safe and we could build a future. “

 We want your help. We want to get out of this situation. We want your help, not just with food and drinks, but with the broader issues. Help us with publicity, be creative: think about how you could help. Whether you’re politically active, or a journalist, everyone can help in their own way. We have 5 representatives you can talk to, to explain our situation.

 The name “Refugees-on-the-Street” was coined when they started organizing in the spring of 2011 in Utrecht, with support of the STIL Foundation, a solidarity group for migrants without a residence permit. They are people who fled their home country, asked for asylum but were denied permission. The capstone of the asylum procedure is deportation. Undocumented migrants are systematically held in administrative detention for up to 18 months and this can be repeated endlessly. If they cannot be deported they are put on the street without any title of right, no shelter no care, nothing at all. Most of them go in hiding, including women with children. They depend on charity, on good will (or bad will) of private people. But more and more refuse to hide and they fight for a decent life, for hope.

Since the big tent camp in ter Apel everybody knows they are here. Through their demonstrations and actions, by their presence in the media and in politics they have joined the public debate. In Amsterdam the Camp against the Cold started on the 4th of September where a growing number of refugees find shelter, food, safety and medical care. With their slogan “WE ARE HERE” (WIJ ZIJN HIER) they show that WE are human beings, WE have nowhere to go, WE stay here until we have a solution that respects our human rights. In the camp at Notweg 32 in Amsterdam Osdorp are mainly African men and women (children are not allowed by the Mayor of Amsterdam) from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenia, and francophone people from Congo, Mauretania, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Mali and Guinee. There are individuals from Yemen (2), China and Armenia.

 In Den Haag a group of Iraqi (mostly Kurdish) refugees is camping near the central Staion in open tents in worse conditions than in Amsterdam. They carry the name RIGHT TO EXIST.

Self-organization

The two actual groups of activists continue previous actions, notably the massive protest camp of last May in front of the Deportation Complex in the northern village of Ter Apel. Most of the 400 refugees of this camp are still lodged in various reception centers, where they enjoy limited freedom and are not able to demonstrate. The activists share their experiences and views by mutual visits, mobile phones, and some via Facebook and email. Around the camps a network of helpers, supporters and activists (type Occupy), artists, academics etc. gather to provide direct aid, temporary solutions and advice en optuions for more structural and political tactics.

M2M (Migrant to Migrant) Foundation initiated the project WE ARE HERE right after the eviction of the big camp in Ter Apel. The aim was to collect all graphic material from the camp and make collabaritively a selection to produce a mobile exhibition for a wide audience. An underlying purpose was to maintain the communication between the dispersed groups and to reflect on the experiences of the self-managed camp.

 Parliament of Refugees

 On September 1st 2012 M2M organized a work conference in Arnhem with 30 participants from the Ter Apel camp and 3 academic supporters. By elaborating on the values of the experiences en putting them in a perspective of future solutions the concept arose of a parliament of refugees. This body could articulate the common ground and the vision of the various groups of refugees and undocumented migrants into a coherent discourse and enter into a dialogue with society and authorities. This would help a lot, because a sustainable approach to the global complex of migration cannot be elaborated without the equal participation of all stakeholders.

Theatre of Hope

I don’t want to die. I need life, I need hope.” These are the words of the Ethiopean woman Meskeren to mayor Kompier of Vlagtwedde during one of her visits to the tent camp of Refugees-on-the-Street in Ter Apel (May 2012)

The Theatre of Hope is a building in Amsterdam where refugees-on-the-street can live and demonstrate as the face and the voice of a growing group of outlawed people. It is a stage for dialogue with Dutch society in search for a normal life. A ring of supporters around the tent camp in Osdorp provides the building and a supporting structure to enable the users to manage the building and the program of activities. This is how the initiators hope to contribute to the self-organization, communication and participation of the Refugees-on-the-Street. This project is about empowerment and democracy in a situation that pushes thousands of people over the brink of civilized life. The democratic process in the Netherlands has created a substantial infringement on the human rights and the dignity of migrants. The Theatre of Hope is a step towards a solution. The creation of a public space is a vital contribution to repairing the present gap of democracy and human rights in our own country today.

Design the Future

The concept of the Theatre of Hope was born in the first workshop called Design the Future on October 13th in the camp itself, again with thirty participants and some ten professional artists, architects and social designers. This workshop was a co-creation of M2M and The Beach of social designer Diana Krabbendam. The Theatre of Hope in the House of Hope will meet the two most urgent needs of the refugees: a place to stay in the winter and a space to develop their movement.

In the last two months the Theatre of Hope and the Parliament of Refugees have actually already started in practice. The camps attract wide media exposure and negotiations are going on with council member, mayors, ministers, members of parliament and diplomats. The internal organization and procedures for decision making are in place: general meetings when needed bring all campers together, and every week a public General Assembly ratifies the steps proposed in the workshops. Recently, on October 23rd. A round table meeting with 6 parties who form together a progressive minority in Parliament was prepared by a team of Women against deportation, bringing to the fore the voice of the women in the camp with their gender specific issues and stories. In this manner the process of articulating an independent and coherent discourse the first steps towards a creating a representative body have been taken.

 The tent camps are a public manifestation, a stage for direct and mediated exchange with neighbors and society at large. Demonstrations and public actions at offices of the Immigration Service and in front of the Parliament are equally public performances of presence, passion and power.

 he Theatre of Hope was first presented on October 20th in collaboration with the Sandberg Academy of Design within the framework of a public debate on Soft Power.

Every Saturday the workshops Design the Future will continue to provide a structure for building both the community and intensifying communication and collaborations with supporters.

 msterdam November 28th