Meeting with Mayor Van der Laan

September 30, 8.30 at the Mayor’s residence

Minutes by Jasper Klapwijk for We Are Here.

Present: Bayissa Ayana, Younis Osman Nuur, Oumar Barete, Thomas Philip Guya, Mammadou Telly Diallo, Eberhard van der Laan, Simon Bontekoning and three civil servants, Savannah Koole, Henk Griffioen, Jasper Klapwijk, Maartje Terpstra.

We are welcomed by the mayor, who announces that he has time for 30 minutes to talk to us. He asks if the people will leave the Vluchtflat. Osman declares that the people will leave today as promised. This is news for the mayor, as he was under the impression that the date for leaving was October 1. Savannah explains that the verdict from the court explicitly stated September 30.

The mayor asks if the letter of state secretary Teeven has been received; Simon explains that the letter has not been handed out, but that he has explained. The refugees confirm this and state that they understand the offer Teeven has made: 12 weeks in VBL Ter Apel on the condition of cooperation with return to the country of origin, and € 4.500 for people who manage to return.

Osman Younis hands out a letter by the leaders to the mayor. The mayor reads the letter for a brief time, and says that he wants to talk about two points, on which he disagrees with the leaders.

1. The mayor thinks that VWN has done a good job in reviewing the cases of the refugees. His conclusion is, however, that 10, at most 15 people will benefit from this review and get a permit. For all others there is no perspective on staying in the Netherlands. In the letter it says that for many refugees the situation is still unclear. The Mayor does not agree. A group of 100 remains, for whom there is no perspective. They will have to return.

2. The letter says that in the VBL Ter Apel there is a severe security and supervision. But next thursday there will be a debate in parliament. There will be debate about a new regime:  more open, so that refugees can walk in and out. Ter Apel will be a more humane place to stay; it is better than it used to be.

The Mayor then says that he has to disappoint those who wanted a residence permit, but that he is convinced that most people cannot get this, and that he is not responsible for that: he cannot give out residence permits. The mayor has tried, however, to play a role in trying to get another regime, and provide more money for those who leave, to build up a life in the country of origin.

The refugees state that thet understand the proposal, but that they do not agree. The Mayor repsonds that if the refugees understand the proposal, he does not understand their letter. For him, the review of VWN is a matter of having proof or not having proof for the asylum procedure; hope for proof is not enough, and the Mayor has provided enough time to get the evidence to complete the file.

Savannah says that some refugees have only started the review of their file in August, so there has not been enough time to collect evidence. This is also what VWN says: in 59 cases, people are still waiting for documents that support their case.

Simon says that this is true, but that It is also true that people who go tp the VBL in Ter Apel have three more months to investigate. DT&V has already said that the refugees can continue their procedure, apply for a new asylum procedure, or make an appeal to a decision by IND if they stay in the VBL.

Simon adds that VWN has reviewed the cases, but GGD has done this as well, and this has resulted in help in 10 to 15 cases with vulnerable people, who can stay in Amsterdam. This means that from the 159, around 100 people can go to Ter Apel. That is the final offer. The term of 12 weeks in the VBL is not the ultimate time: there will be more time, if needed, but then there has to be a perspective.

The Mayor stresses that the Amsterdam city government has now done everything it could, and so did the Diaconie, HVO Querido and the Salvation Army. He says that the city has spent a lot of time and effort on the group of 159 in the Vluchtflat, but that there are thousands of other refugees out on the streets in Amsterdam as well, and that they need the money too, and there are not unlimited funds.

Thomas tells the Mayor has talked to all his room mates, and that they all have been there before. They do not trust the VBL in Ter Apel, because the DT&V and IND have already tried to let them return to their country, Sudan, wich did not succed. They were then either put in detention, or out on the street.

The Mayor says he is not responsible for the return of the refugees, and that he can only be asked to take care of a humane situation. Therefore, it ends here for the city of Amsterdam, as they have helped to create a more humane situation for the refugees, and they take the vulnerable people from the group and offer them shelter. However, they cannot offer a residence permit. There is some good news in Teeven’s offer , and the urges them to take this.

Oumar states that the refugees did not come here for permits, papers, of for money, as the mayor seems to think: the refugees came to this country for security and shelter.

The Mayor says that this not all refugees face security problems in their home country, and it is not his competence or respondibility to declare a country safe or not.

Bayissa says that he has been on the street for a long time, and so have most refugees, and that this is why they have come together and started their action.

The Mayor responds that before he did not know what the cases were about. But now VWN has gone into the files, and now he knows more. This cost the city 100,000, which was payed to VWN. The city has now spent enough on the refugees, and the Mayor cannot help them in getting a residence permit, they can only offer shelter to the most vulnerable people.

Henk asks the Mayor if he will prohibit private organisations to help the refugees.

The Mayor repsonds that if private institutions help people who are illegal, it is OK with him, but that it will be hard to get help form Salvation Army, HVO Querido and the Diaconie. Also, the City is not prepared to give more grants to these organisations, because enough has been payed already to the people of the Vluchtflat. However, if a private organisation offers a building and can guarantee safety, it is fine with the Mayor. There will be no extra funds from the city council. There will be no extra police for security. And the Mayor will not tolerate a new tent camp. He then leaves the meeting.

Simon invites everybody to go to the building of Eigenwijks in the neighbourhood from 13.00 until 17.00 where they can get information on the VBL in Ter Apel. There will be people from IOM, DT&V and VWN with information, and people can register to be transported by buses to Ter Apel on the same day.

The condition for this is that refugees should try to return. In the VBL, if people get new information on their case, they can make a new application or an appeal to a decision by IND. If people cannot return, there is a situation in which you can get a permit through the Buitenschuld-procedure. Simons thinks, at this moment, the VBL is a better place to stay than the street or any other place.

The refugees are afraid that the situation in the VBL and detention is unclear. Simon states that Thursday in the Debate one of the issues is the detention regime. Today people who cannot return are put on the streets or in prison, but this will change. At this moment, IND and DT&V are already shifting: there is more awareness that they have to help people to return, and that prison is no solution if people cannot go back.

Bayissa and Thomas explain that people don’t trust DT&V and state secretary Teeven. DT&V and IND are part of one and the same system that arrests people, and tries to deport them. Yunis Osman tells about his experience with DT&V: if you cooperate, IND will try to get your signature and dump you in Dubai or Guinea: people just don’t trust it. There is nothing new there. Our aim is not to get a permit, but also to change the corrupt system.

Simon responds that the people from DT&V will be present at Eigenwijks near the Vluchtflat from 13.00, and that people can ask them what happens after 12 weeks in the VBL if people cannot return. He wants to reach a conclusion. The offer stands, and it is what it is. All refugees have the opportunity to register from 13.00.

Yunis Osman asks how the departure from the building can be combined with the information session and registration at Eigenwijks, as the building has to be empty at the end of the week. Simon responds that in his view, meeting this afternoon is the first step, cleaning up the building should come later. Cleaning is also no more than taking out furniture; further cleaning is not necessary, because the building will be stripped.

Simon thanks everybody for their presence and ends the meeting.

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