the expulsion machine at full throttle

european cooperation and opposition, december 1997

the removal policy, december 1997



The Removal Policy

Return project, return teams, project coordinator Return, Mobile Assistance Teams Return, ending of ROA-regulation, Junction Group Voluntary Return, Return Office. In the Dutch removal policy no longer is spoken of 'expulsion or removal', return is the motto. As if people are returning home from a holiday. Voluntarily or not voluntarily. June 3th under-secretary of Justice Schmitz published the report 'Terugkeerbeleid' ('Return Policy'). This will be the guideline for the future. From the start of the asylum procedure the notion of removal should become more clear. Refugee councils and city councils should aid the government in this. Mobile Assis- tance Teams will help the city councils in ending the ROA regula- tion for asylum-seekers whose procedure have ended. In interna- tional deliberation, for example with negotiations about EU coop- eration agreements, return agreements will have to be enclosed.

It is clear that the expulsion policy in the Netherlands has a shaky base. And for a good reason too. Time and time again, the government achieves to manufacture politically coloured official reports about the situation in the countries of origin. These reports rather look as if they function as part of the removal policy (there's many, so they have to go) instead of representing the situation in the country of origin. A recent example is Iran, but with Somaliland and Sri Lanka it can also be seen. Not only the supposed security in the countries of origin is doubted by many organisations. The way in which some refugees were expulsed in large groups, also led to much protest. Eurocharters with refugees from Zaire; failed missions to Somalia, they are examples of inexorable government policy. The threatening expul- sion of large groups of refugees from Zaire was the sign to start a renewed church asylum. When Iranian refugees were also in peril, many of them started hungerstrikes. For years the Ministry of Justice has kept refugees dangling on a string: few of them got residence permits, many went in appeal. The last year the official reports were adapted at a fast rate. Many different countries of origin were declared safe. Furthermore the ministry of Justice is busy concluding 'return-agreements' with countries of origin that previously refused to accept people who did not have documents. The restriction of the asylum policy also plays an important role. Recently there was a further restriction on people without docu- ments. One can ask: who is allowed to stay?

The rising tide

The numbers show that expulsions are becoming a big problem for the government. In 1992 it concerned 7534 rejected refugees, in 1993 a bit less: 7186. Then the number of expulsed refugees rose quickly: 13293 in 1994, 14509 in 1995 and 16841 in 1996. Removals happen in three different ways. Expulsions, supervised return and address control. Even after the 'Return Policy Report' under- secretary Schmitz remains to think that the 'important principle of the return policy is that refugees whose procedure have ended are themselves responsible for their departure from the Nether- lands. In relation to that, they are given a reasonable time to leave the country on their own accord. The government does not want to change that principle'. Schmitz sees address controls, whereby at the last residential address is checked if somebody is still living there, 'is still a meaningful and even necessary means of supervising, even if these checks do not ascertain that those concerned have actually left the country'.
Indeed this policy fits to the image that the numbers of the last few years give. The number of expulsions (forcedly by the military police Marechaussee) has not risen spectacularly: 2253 in 1992, 3366 in 1995 and 3553 in 1996. The supervised returns, whereby people have to report at the border, where they get their travel- documents, are also quite steady. In 1992: 1123, 2351 in 1995 and 1839 in 1996. The major growth is in the address checks: 4158 in 1992, 8792 in 1995 and 11,089 in 1996.
In the debate on the removal policy Schmitz showed herself not always to be in favour of 'supervised expulsion'. "As a rule 'supervised expulsion' of foreigners would mean that no longer a reasonable time for leave should be given, but that foreigners will have to be deprived of their liberty immediately after the decline of their request for entry. Only then there is absolute certainty that they will not leave with unknown destination. The existing framework of conservatory measures in the Aliens Act however does not provide sufficient legal basis for that." (min- utes Second Chamber of Parliament 19637, nr.290, 20/11/1997).
Schmitz only sees a partial solution in increasing the 'supervised expulsion': "Such a means of control can only be exerted when foreigners leave the country through a Schengen outer-border (like Schiphol airport) and not when they travel through one of the borders of the country". On how things should be arranged, Schmitz refers to her Return Report of june 1997.

Return Policy 1997


In the Return Report Schmitz sought an answer to the removal of reclined refugees in ROA-houses; the large groups of reclined refugees from Iran, Ethiopia and Somalia; and for the in future reclined refugees. 'Mobile assistance teams of the IND' should help out foreigners-services of the police, COA (central organisation for reception of asylum-seekers) and city councils. For large groups of to be removed refugees there would have to come a special project in cooperation with the ministry of De- velopment-cooperation. Finally the new coming refugees will have to be confronted with the option of return much more clearly than before.

ROA-provisions

(The ROA-regulation provided asylum-seekers with houses in cities and villages where they would await their decision. They were given minimal income support and Dutch lessons. January 1997 the ROA-regulation ended. Since then asylum-seekers have to await their decision in the central asylum-seekers centre (AZC's). According to Schmitz there is a large number of reclined refugees in the different centres for asylum-seekers and ROA-houses at the moment. This concerns about 7,500 people divided as followed (statistics of first of march 1997): 1250 from Iran, 1100 from former Yugoslavia, 650 from China, 500 from Somalia and 500 from Začre. Furthermore over 100 people from the following countries are concerned: Algeria, Armenia, Ethiopia, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Syria and Turkey. Together these nationalities form 85% of all the removable refugees. According to calculations of the IND within one and a half year 10,000 people will be added to this, people who are now still in the procedure.

At the beginning of this year Schmitz came into trouble when a number of cities refused to expel reclined refugees from their ROA-houses. On a humanitarian level it is irresponsible to just dump them on the street when people are not expulsable, so these cities argued. They also repeatedly questioned if the procedures were extensively used.
Schmitz reacted by stating that the decision to grant asylum is primarily with the Ministry of Justice, city councils only have a part in providing housing. After deliberation with the cities Schmitz came with a new ROA-expulsion policy, in which the respon- sibilities are clearly divided and described. In her letter of june 3th 1997, sent to the management of COA and the city councils, a revised version of the plan for ending the ROA-provisions was given. This plan gives an accurate description of the steps to be taken for ending the provision when necessary, including a checklist. Until that date the policy was only for people from China, Eritrea and Ethiopia. From june 3th it was valid for every- body. The newly revised plan of steps has two routes: A and B. In first instance everything revolves around the 'criterium of coop- eration'. When, after six steps, it is established that someone did not cooperate enough in obtaining travel documents, he or she gets notice to leave the country within seven days. Then the city council or the COA has to come into action to make sure the provisions are ended. Just as in the past such a person will end up on the street, since the papers for expulsion are absent.

As has been pointed out, a number of cities had great difficulties to execute these senseless activities. In order to overrule them, Schmitz has drawn the coordination of expulsion from ROA-regula- tion even more to her department. In every IND-district there is a team 'supervision and return' in operation. These teams fulfil an important role in the execution of the plan of steps for ending ROA-provisions, especially by giving support in this area to the city involved. They also keep the contact with the foreigners- services of the police and the COA.

A more important role in ending the ROA-provision has been given to the removal-centre Ter Apel (dubbelop met laatste zin alinea). On january 22 1997 (TK 1996-1997, 19637, nr. 231) Schmitz reported an increase in the number of people that could be placed in remo- val centre Ter Apel. This concerns people that were told to leave the country and therefor had to leave their ROA-house. As of May 31 the capacity has risen from 100 to 300 people. Thus, Ter Apel has been given a more important role in the execution of the policy, aimed at ending of ROA-provisions for refugees who do not cooperate with their return.

'Voluntary' Return

From the list of removable refugees from the ROA-regulation app- ears that most countries concerned are those with which the Minis- try of Justice is attempting to establish projects for 'voluntary return'. This they do in cooperation with the junction-group Voluntary Return and the Ministry of Development-Cooperation. The criticisms of the Ethiopian refugees on the interest-groups like the Dutch Refugee Council (VVN) is striking. They reproach them that they compromise themselves to the expulsion policy of the government by cooperating with the junction-group Voluntary Return. According to the Ethiopian Refugee Assembly in the Netherlands (VEN) human rights in Ethiopia are still violated on a large scale.
The projects are a combination of the carrot and the stick, which have to get refugees to return 'voluntarily'. The coercion is in the ending of ROA-provisions, the carrot a higher International Organisation for Migration (IOM) bonus when cooperating fully. The cooperation of organisations like the Dutch Refugee Council, the religious group INLIA and Humanitas have to give the impression of a solid project. Last but not least the ministry of Development- Cooperation has to legitimize the voluntary return by supporting the whole of the region whereto is to be expulsed. At the moment the IND is working at concluding similar agreements with Eritrea and Angola.

Projects without the cooperation of the Ministry of Development- Cooperation are established with (Northwest) Somalia and Sri Lanka. With both countries there is an agreement about the return of reclined refugees. On top of the normal IOM contribution the Somalis get an extra $ 1200. The IOM will administer this amount at location and will also control the expenditures. There is not much time for deliberation. The Somalis concerned have to react to the offer within one week. In the interpellation debate in the Second Chamber of Parliament on 23 september 1997, Leoni Sipkes of the GreenLeft especially had objections to the agreement with Somaliland. "The under-secretary told us that the agreement of return had been concluded fully and that she would start, from this day, as she then formulated it, with the return of Somalis. And all of a sudden a fax arrived from the Minister of Rehabilita- tion of Somaliland, directed to the IOM. Consultation about return will be postponed until at least january 1998... Then there is a new fax, now to the Ministry of Justice and coming from the presi- dent with the same contents. Postponing consultation until at least january 1998 and in this fax there is also criticism on the way the Netherlands operate. Among others because of the reception of the delegation on a merely civil level, because the Netherlands do not acknowledge Somaliland, and does not see the delegation of ministers from Somaliland as ministers. ...Also in the fax, the president shows his irritation about the fact that the Netherlands have tried to expulse people without the consent of the authori- ties. The president calls it a violation of the agreement. Fur- thermore it becomes clear from the correspondence that the presi- dent only wants to take back people who have already lived in Somaliland, this means: not people who only have clan-relations with Somaliland. Incidentally this is a problem which the UNHCR has also pointed out". It seems that the project Somaliland is turning out just as much a mess as the attempts to expulse Somalis in june 1996. Any trust from the side of the reclined refugees can hardly be expected.
With all projects the rule is: cooperating gets you money, for the individual refugee as well as for the region whereto is expulsed and for the government concerned. The side of the story in the Netherlands is also clear: non-cooperation leads to ending of the ROA-provision and finally to a life in illegality. It is difficult to call this a 'voluntary' choice. Especially since the countries are also obliged to take back 'forcedly' expulsed refugees.

Integral Removal

With the 'voluntary return-projects' the IND hopes to be able to execute, in a gentle way, a large part of the expulsions now queuing up. In future the route of expulsion will be made an inte- gral part of the asylum procedure. They want to prevent that expulsion is only introduced in the final phase of the asylum procedure. Schmitz calls this the 'integral approach'. Immediately after the first negative decision to one's asylum request the option of 'return' should be introduced. Here too a measure is introduced where the carrot is used. The sooner someone chooses for return, the 'more facilities the offer for supportive measures will contain'. The existing IOM-provision remains the basis, but other 'return-promoting' projects are also thinkable. The Ministry of Justice has raised an extra 5 million guilders for this. Conse- quence of this approach is the new method of working for the IND and COA. Both services recently work with a (secret) plan of approach for removals. At the IND there is a project-coordinator Return, who is responsible for the project. The problem of return will be approached both regionally and nationally.

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