9 september 2014 - Family prison for refugees at Kamp Zeist: no humane alternative
English translation of:
Gezinsgevangenis voor vluchtelingen op Kamp Zeist is geen humaan alternatief
End of May 2014, the state secretary of security & justice Teeven, responsible for migration policy, announced in a letter to the Lower House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) that he intends to open a special detention location for families and unaccompanied minors (amv’s). This new prison should be ready in early 2015 and is planned on the site of Kamp Zeist, Soesterberg. Kamp Zeist at the is housing both a regular detention center as well as a temporary refugee center. With his plan Teeven claims to meet the long-running criticism on the detention of children in the border hospice and in detention and deportation centers. A coalition of NGOs, coordinated by Defence for Childeren, has been participating for a number of years in the campaign "No Child In a Cell", which can also count on support from a number of political parties.
Purpose: the 'assurance of return'
Teeven applies, in his letter to the Parliament an outline of the measures planned to accommodate the new prison for children and
families. He mentions "[t]he offer of utmost freedom of movement within the site and the provision of adequate facilities for
families and children." The detained refugees are housed in pavilions with "independent units for families and a separate
pavilion for the unaccompanied minors." They can prepare their meals themselves, and families can lock their pavilions from the
inside. Also on site is a "service center including a recreation room, outdoor playground, a provision shop and internet
facilities." For some, this will evoke images of a holiday park, but to let the cat out of the bag: the operation in fact is a
prison, euphemistically referred to as "closed site". To dampen this feel, the guards will however not wear uniforms and the
fence will "be largely obscured from the sight of the residents by the greenery." The new prison will function under the
responsibility of the Judicial Service (DJI). The Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) and the Repatriation and
Departure Service (DT&V) will be present on site as part of the ongoing asylum procedures and the "assurance of return".
After all, "The stay will stay focused on working to return, or further investigating those who have submitted an asylum
request", as DJI states in a press release. Earlier this year Teeven let the remark slip in a Lower House (Tweede Kamer) debate:
"Sure i understand that you can't have children in prison cells. This would be extremely inhuman." His rare moment of self-insight and humanity seems to have a very limited scope. Teeven remains to plan locking up children, but because the location has no bars and heavy cell doors with the characteristic hatch, this new detention location for families and unaccompanied minors would be a humane alternative from his point of view.
Reactions from political and social organizations
Political parties and social organizations which have critically reacted to the detention of children in the past, seem to be
competing for a piece in this reasoning. The plan has not yet been discussed in Parliament, but is in line with previous
statements made by various political parties. They don't want to keep any children in a cell, but in principle are not opposed to
a form of 'private care', in order to keep children and families within sight of the government. In a parliamentary debate last
March, the Labour Party called the state secretary "to keep looking for alternatives, in which families with children remain in
sight and under supervision, but in a less stressful environment. The coalition 'No Child In a Cell' "is pleased with the steps
taken by Teeven, but remains cautious critical: "The Coalition No Child in a Cell welcomes the significant improvements but
stresses, however, that deprivation of liberty in a child-friendly environment may only be used in exceptional cases.
Freedom deprivation of children solely for reasons of immigration control is in principle not in the best interests of the child.
It will take a special effort to adapt the penal nature of the location in Zeist to a child-friendly environment." The National
Support Group for the Undocumented (LOS) also emphasizes that children will continue to be imprisoned: "They can no longer
be locked in a cell, but are still in centers with surveillance and fences around it." In addition, attention is drawn to
the risk that having a 'child-friendly' prison will possibly lower the threshold to detain families.
Municipalities and county respond negatively
Immediately after the plan of Teeven was published, a negative reaction from Mayor Metz (VVD) of Soest reached the news. The
establishment of a new detention center at Kamp Zeist is not consistent with plans for the area, which are described in "Hart of
the Heuvelrug", the program for regional development in the area. "The area which the Secretary of State has in mind, is in
development plans a very important part of the ecological network," said Metz. According to these plans, the main part of
Kamp Zeist should be nature, a smaller part, in which the current detention center is located, will continue to be used as such.
Of fundamental objections is no question. Indeed, "The municipalities of Zeist and Soest and Utrecht province are willing to
look with Teeven for an alternative location." The municipal boundary between Zeist and Soest runs through the detention center
at Kamp Zeist. The SP in Zeist council asked questions about the relationship of the plans of Teeven to "Hart van de Heuvelrug"
development plans. The college, however, had no answer: "Not yet known. Talks about concrete plans yet to be implemented."
Meanwhile, it is known that in late July civil servants would discuss with the city of Soest about temporarily
(provisionally for a period of one year) placing "six chalets for six persons each [...] and a larger building for the stay of
12 people" within the urban boundary that is included in the zoning plan. "This request concerns a temporary facility in
anticipation of a proposal for a definitive facility elsewhere on the site, where DJI is still working on and which separately
should be decided, in consultation with our partners in Hart van de Heuvelrug", says the College of B&W in Soest to the council.
The announcement of Teeven to put no more children in border detention at Schiphol as of september is possibly related to the
rapid construction of this temporary location.
Confinement is confinement
Whether Kamp Zeist is or isn't the place where the new prison will be located, the tone has been set. With the opening of this
new "closed location" and highlighting the way in which it differs from a regular detention or repatriation center, Teeven
attempts to silence the critics of his policy on refugee children in advance. Monique Schippers, Director of Special Facilities
of DJI, almost lyrical: "The arrival of the new location provides a family that is eligible the opportunity to land in a family
environment rather than a detention environment. This effects people, and. we are pleased that we can make a positive
contribution to this. " Teeven claims to have done the maximum possible, because not detaining children at all would increase
illegality and human trafficking. A thesis for which there is no evidence. It is precisely the policy of stopping, excluding,
imprisoning and deporting that leaves people no choice but to live in illegality and which allows human trafficking to grow
into a thriving industry. In reality the migration policy and related practice continues its focus on keeping or getting refugees
out of the country for as much as possible. Children are no exception. Grinding his teeth, Teeven had to accept that a limited
pardon for children was included in the coalition agreement. He ordered the IND to execute this pardon as strictly as possible,
leaving many children still exluded. In a public debate, Teeven described the children's pardon as "the sour" which preceded
"the sweet" of the criminalization of illegality (the latter a now abandoned bill due to an exchange between coalition partners
VVD and PvdA). In the period 2011-2013 more than 1,000 minors were detained pending deportation. In addition came
(previously this was not recorded) about 120 children in 2013, put in border detention immediately after arrival in the
Netherlands. Teeven says with dry eyes these figures demonstrate that children "are only put in detention in exceptional cases,
and with extreme reserve."
World without borders
We must not let ourselves be fooled. Using some cosmetic changes, the practice of detaining children will simply continue. Children, of who their flight and the reasons for their flight in most of the cases are traumatic, are a vulnerable group that deserves extra attention. At the same time we must not only turn against the detention and deportation of children. Anyone who leave their homes, fleeing war, violence, hunger, poverty, exploitation and/or suppression must be able to count on a warm welcome. It is the rich West, driven by selfishness and greed, which is responsible for an important part of the cause of the reasons why people flee. These same people then encounter the walls raised by the same wealthy West to keep them outside: boundary fences, soldiers, immigration police, and a growing arsenal of surveillance and detection techniques. Those who manage to slip through the maze of this increasingly sophisticated net, has the choice to undergo a procedure with all the associated risks of detention and deportation, or disappear directly into an uncertain life in illegality. As long as there is no end to this system of two evils, any so-called improvement at best is a drop in the ocean. We will have to continue to fight for open borders, the abolishing of states and an end to capitalism, which is at the basis of so much misery in the world that forces people to flee, to get some chance of a freer, more just and human construction of the world. A new prison, no matter in which pseudo-human form, is in complete contradiction with this endeavor.
The Anti-deportation Anarchist Group Utrecht (AAGU) has been very active for a long time against the 'regular' detention center at Kamp Zeist. Now Teeven has announced the arrival of a family prison, AAGU launches a new campaign against these plans, of course the closure of the existing detention center also continues an issue. Check this website regularly to keep up to date, or send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.