• David Dijkhuis

Undocumented Migrants; those who never had a chance

Undocumented migrants. We tend to speak of these people in abstractions, a group of aliens that have no status in the Netherlands. But that goes beyond the question that the people who belong to this group are not some abstract category, but desperate humans, who have tragic backstories.

In Rotterdam alone for example, there are over 20.000 people undocumented people, whose stories we barely know, because if they show themselves, that could mean trouble for them.

Who are these migrants? How did they end up as undocumented migrants or refugees? What is their life like, and how can we help them? This blog post provides a brief overview.

An undocumented refugee or migrant is defined as a person who does not have a valid residence permit. People who live in the Netherlands without a residence permit can be detained and sent back to the country they came from by the Dienst Terugkeer en Vertrek, the Dutch service of return and departure. Plenty of refugees who come to the Netherlands have no official status of residence - like Ibrahim Elsaadani, who had to leave the local refugee center and ended up on the streets, or Ali, whose request for asylum was denied because the authorities deemed his story of being detained and tortured not credible. It was impossible to expel him from the country, so the authorities dumped him on the street. With nothing.

Source: ANP

And that’s not all. Many undocumented refugees or migrants would love to contribute to the society that they are now in - Mr. Elsaadani stated that he would ‘love to learn to know the Netherlands, learn the language, integrate, but I can’t. Ibrahim, who fled as a political refugee from Zanzibar, never had a chance to integrate in the Netherlands. According to the police, he and his brothers had lied about their age, which denied him any chance of gaining a residence permit. There are many other tragic stories like these people, who are actively hindered in their integration because they lack the necessary paperwork or support to get their lives on track and learn Dutch. Instead, they are left on their own, in a faraway country where everything is unimaginably different, with no ways of working themselves towards a constructive member of Dutch society. Some are afraid of contacting the police when they are victims of crimes, because of their fears of being arrested or sent back. Some are literally left in the winter cold, because undocumented people can’t apply for a homeless shelter, except when there’s a special regulation, the ‘winter cold measures,’ decreed. The government is neither morally, nor legally allowed to do this. The woes of the undocumented can last years. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly grants everybody the right to a standard of living for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services[...]’ (article 25).

Everyone means everyone, whether documented or undocumented. It is inhumane to put people on the street with nothing and without a chance to escape their situation. Many undocumented refugees and migrants rely on volunteers to give them food, shelter, and legal guidance, even though the government should be the one which does this.