Tag Archives: immigration

New Hamburg: Life of the Veddel

Veddel 4

Ever since I decided to go abroad, I have been often reminded by how little everyone knows about the world, myself included. We are bound by an obnoxious bubble of self-proclaimed self-righteousness and assumption of knowledge of worldly events; however, this bubble gets popped upon collision with communities we might know very little about.

Yesterday marked my initial contact with Veddel: a fascinating blend of people from 67 different nations, all of whom had left their homelands in pursuit of better life standards. For many immigrants, Germany has been a rather popular destination, despite the fact that the conditions of arrival and integration are not exactly ideal. Nevertheless, between racial discrimination in their home nations, along with religious segregation and prosecution for political activism, Hamburg in particular seemed a safe place to be.

Veddel: A harmonious entanglement

Veddel is a snapshot of a truly multicultural city within a city. Though it is commonly misrepresented in traditional media as being dangerous and high on crime rates, as immigrant communities often perfectly fit the illustrative material for that particular purpose, the island has taken the definition of “parallel societies” to a whole new level. Its residents, with the variety of their backgrounds, spiritual beliefs, education levels, ages and experiences, live together in a harmony most big cities with all the proper infrastructure have been unable to achieve.

Veddel 2

A live example of this polyphony is the Immanuel Church [Deutsche: Immanuelkirche], formerly an Evangelical center of Veddel’s mostly Christian society. Today, the church is a melting point of cultural dialogue, music, film, sports and other activities for the multitude of spiritual beliefs that inhabit Veddel, creating a network of diversity where parents, teachers, members of different religious communities, artists and activists had the space to develop New Hamburg, an initiative that celebrates the cultural richness and diversity of the island.

Along with the fascinating theatre shows, the music and the inspiring performances, New Hamburg Festival, held from the 3rd to the 25th of October, offered a platform for the residents of Veddel to tell their stories.

A larger portion of the population stems from Albania, Montenegro, Serbia, Bosnia, and other Southern-Eastern European countries, but were born there as part of the Romani communities [also known as Gypsy, despite my distaste for the term] in those nations. Prior to coming to Europe, I had only heard of the word “Gypsy”, yet had never associated it with any specific connotation. Coming from Egypt, the only time I’d ever heard the word was in Disney’s the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, referring to Esmeralda’s character. Whatever I came across yesterday is how I’ll always perceive the Romani community, for as long as I have a memory.

Mapping life across Europe

One of the most intriguing events that took place was a series of presentations given by a few members of the Veddel community, where each one stood in front of a large-scaled map of Europe to illustrate their life stories by placing a pin in each country they lived in, even briefly, then tying a thread, each person with his preferable colour, that connects the dots in a way that ends with them settling in Hamburg. The map ended up being a canvas of intertwined tangles of threads, each thread representing a tale.


Among the stories was a Romani man who was born and raised in Serbia. Being a journalist and a political activist, he was among the founders of the first political party that represented the Roma community in Serbia, for which he was prosecuted, chased by the police forces in former Yugoslavia in the 1970s, and forced to flee.

“I had to leave; I couldn’t risk taking my family along to face the hardships I knew were about to come.” Waving his hand across different countries in former Yugoslavia, he said, “I had no passport, and I travelled through Hungary and other countries on foot.”

Briefly narrating the story of his continuous abscond and suffering, he told his audience how he ended up in Germany with severe health complications, for which the authorities decided to give him a disability card to legalize his status in Germany.

Centuries-long discrimination

“With no mother nation to stand up for our cause, we are denied citizenship almost everywhere. Veddel has been good to us, but there is such a high unemployment rate, and we are increasingly misunderstood and maligned due to our ethnicity as a minority group.”

Originally migrating from India, to Mid-West Asia, and finally arriving in Europe around 1,000 years ago, the Roma have suffered economic, cultural and political discrimination at the hands of both communist and capitalist, and both democratic and totalitarian societies.20141019_202815

Upon doing more research on their history, some of what I stumbled upon was inhumane, illogical, and rather shocking. Not only are they culturally excluded from their prospective communities, but more-so politically. For example, in 1993, Jozsef Pacai, the mayor of the Slovak village of Medzev said, “I’m no racist, but some Gypsies you would have to shoot.”

Several far-right political groups in Eastern Europe consistently used the idea of ridding of “gypsies” as propaganda for their campaigns. In 2009, the Czech National Party ran advertisements for the European Parliament election calling for a “final solution to the Gypsy problem”. Another far-right party in Slovakia, in 2010, has used the term “Gypsy criminality” in reference to the danger they allegedly form towards the nation state.

Even in Germany, since they are not German nationals, they do not get the right to vote, which makes Veddel untouched by the hands of the authorities, and lacking in infrastructure in many ways.

“It’s a vicious cycle. Europe complains about us; they dislike that we are nomads, but what makes us nomadic is that we are never accepted into our host countries. We don’t know where to go”, a Montenegrin told me.

Celebrating diversity

Despite their rather traumatic stories, the Veddel community was rather welcoming. Some of the women grilled food in the church’s backyard, offering food at minimal prices for the festival’s guests. Some of them also joined to attend the consequent events of the evening. Children huddled around the fire for warmth, and by the evening, many people, mostly Germans and Veddel locals, gathered inside the church’s café for a welcome from the organizers of New Hamburg, ending with a warm “Our house is your house” [Deutsche: Unser Haus ist dein Haus].

Veddel 3 Veddel 1







The crowd slowly moved into the second part of the evening celebrations: a tour around a big hallway where several people told the stories of people who had immigrated to Veddel many decades ago, in German. I was lucky enough to h
ave a German-speaking friend, translating the stories word by word. Some of them would make us chuckle, others would give us goosebumps, and others would leave the ending open, bringing about some hope for a better future for the people.

A beautiful interruption of the stories tour were a short couple of performances by Rosemary Hardy, an English lady who had volunteered for the New Hamburg initiative as part of the theatre group. Dressed in a colourful Hungarian dress and seated in a chair while knitting, the spotlights would bring the audience’s attention to her strong Soprano voice, as she sang two songs, one of which was Hungarian, and the other was German, titled “Waldeinsamkeit“, which translates to “the feeling of loneliness you get while being in the woods”, reminding me of how many surprises the German language can carry.

Veddel 5What ended the night was an inspiring performance of a girl in her mid-twenties who sang in Albanian to the earthly tunes of her Eastern instrument, leaving her audience astounded after singing around 5 melodies that ranged from melancholic notes to upbeat tunes.

For our readers in Hamburg, I highly encourage you to visit Veddel on Saturday the 25th of the current month to enjoy more performances, especially a Turkish music concert. For more information on the New Hamburg initiave, please visit http://new-hamburg.de.



Written by Shorouk El Hariry, an Egyptian journalist who studies and lives in Hamburg, Germany. She could be found on Twitter at @shoroukelhariry


Asylum seekers lost to the cracks in Greece


Pandeia continues its refugee feature with an article about Greece, third in the series (see our story on the Netherlands and EU policy for a more solid background).

Thousands of asylum seekers cross the Mediterranean Sea en route to Southern Europe in order to flee from wars and instability. More than two-thirds of the asylum seekers who entered the European Union  used Greece as a door to the continent in 2012, their final destination being the more prosperous Northern countries. However, most migrants find themselves trapped in this country that does not provide them with the expected protection. Asylum seekers who tried to move to Northern Europe were sent back to Greece because of the mechanism of the Dublin Regulation. What this system does not consider are the inadequate reception conditions in Southern countries. The case of Greece is significantly worrying: migrants can neither stay nor leave. They remain trapped.

Dublin regulation: a legislative problem

Wars and conflicts in African and Middle Eastern countries drive many people to move to Europe. More recently, the ongoing war in Syria has intensified the situation. In order for European Union Member States to examine asylum applications systematically, the Dublin Regulation was established. Under the Dublin system, asylum seekers have to remain in the first European country they entered while other Member States do not have the responsibility of their asylum application. The regulation thus allows other European countries to deport back the asylum seekers to their overburdened Southern borders, such as Greece and Italy. Due to geographical proximity these are usually the first European destinations for asylum seekers from war-torn Africa and the Middle East.

When these migrants first enter Greece, they do not intend to stay in the country, but to move to the more prosperous European states, such as Germany, the United Kingdom (UK), Sweden or Norway. However, most of them end up being caught at the border between Greece and its neighbouring countries, like Macedonia or Bulgaria, and being sent back to Greece. And even those immigrants who successfully reach their destination still face deportation because of the Dublin Regulation.

Since its implementation, the Dublin system has been a matter of controversy. While the core of the regulation is to prevent abuse of asylum procedures, the mechanism has also been severely criticised. For instance, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have condemned the system for failing to provide fair, efficient and effective protection. Considering that Greece accounted for 67% of all irregular border crossings into the EU in 2012, according to Frontex, it fails to provide minimum standard of asylum protection.

The uneven distribution of asylum claims among Member States generated by the Dublin Regulation would not be that problematic if it was not built on the assumption that all Member States provide the same standards of protection to refugees. The case of an Afghan translator sent from Belgium to Greece is just a tip of the iceberg, considering that many other lawsuits concerning Greece in terms of Dublin regulation are pending in the Strasbourg Court. In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights fined both Greek and Belgian governments when the latter did not adhere to the clause related to asylum seekers of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Belgium sent back an Afghan translator to Greece despite the warnings that he would be subjected to degrading treatment and prison-like facilities.

These cases also exemplify the problem of difference in asylum systems among the Member States. It has been some years that the EU has been attempting to establish a common ground for asylum applications through the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), which includes the Dublin Regulation. However, almost one year after the policy endorsement by the European Parliament, the system is not functioning well and uniformly yet. The up until now EU Home Affairs Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, acknowledged in March this year that ‘we also need to implement our new common European asylum policy in a responsible manner based on solidarity’. In line with this criticism, the former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, claimed that the system is not designed to guarantee that all EU Members States share the responsibility of asylum seekers.

A never-ending search for protection

Even if the Common European Asylum System would be efficiently implemented, the economic crisis affecting Greece is still a stumbling block. Due to the crisis, Greece has to cut its expenses on social and welfare service. Besides, the 27.5% unemployment rate in Greece makes finding a job very difficult even for the locals. The crisis has also exacerbated the problem of labour exploitation towards migrant workers in Greece. Amnesty International claims that migrant workers, especially farm workers, are faced with inhumane working conditions, long working hours, underpayment by their employers and violence from supervisors.

33 Bangladeshi workers were shot in 2013 in a strawberry farm in Manolada when they protested against their employers making them work without payment for 7 months. The unfair treatment these workers suffered led to pressure being put on Greek government to ensure humane working conditions for migrant workers and asylum seekers.

Because of the Dublin Regulation, asylum seekers are forced to remain in Greece and face discrimination, exploitation and a lack of job opportunities. However, staying in Greece is not a feasible option. Asylum seekers have to wait for years in their application of asylum status. Many are living in the country without any paper nor identity, not to mention asylum protection. A report from Amnesty International states that the Attika Aliens Police Directorate in Athens is only open one day a week, where only 20 asylum seekers are able to register their claims. The failed applicants face the risk of being arrested and sent to detention camps, where hygienic conditions are harsh. The latest version of the Dublin regulation included common deadlines for handling asylum applications, but whether it is effectively enforced in all Member States is another problem.

In order to deter asylum seekers from coming to Greece, Athens also applies ‘push back’ practices, which consists of turning groups of migrants back across the border, denying them the right to have their individual cases heard or to challenge their expulsion. Earlier this year, a boat carrying 27 asylum seekers from Afghanistan and Syrian capsized in the Aegean Sea near the Greek island of Farmakonisi. Survivors accused that the Greek coastguards towered the vessel at high speed to Turkish border and refused to help them when the boat sank. Although the Greek government denied the allegations of applying ‘push backs’, the Greek media Hot Doc unveiled documents showing that torture is used by the authority in order to create an image that life in Greece is miserable, thus to prevent migrants from entering the country. Amnesty International confirmed the ‘push back’ practice in its report ‘Greece: Frontier of Hope and Fear’. The report collects allegations from victims who encountered ‘push backs’, including violence experience in both Greek-Turkish land and sea borders, and concluded that it is not an isolated incident, but a routine and widespread practice. After the incident, the Commissioner of Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Nils Muiznieks, requested the Greek government to put an end to the illegal practice of collective expulsions and effectively investigate all such cases. In response to this, Athens agreed to carry out investigations into all recorded irregular ‘push backs’ from Greece to Turkey.

The rise of anti-immigration movement

The economic crisis has also had a negative impact on the public perception of migrants. A far-right political party in Greece, Golden Dawn, gained 18 of a total of 300 in the Greek parliament in June 2012 and opinion polls show that support for the party jumped from 6.9% to 11.5% soon after it entered the parliament. Golden Dawn denies being racist and xenophobic as claimed by media and scholars, but it advocates an anti-immigration policy.

Even after the arrest of the leader of Golden Dawn, Nikolaos Michaloliakos, violence and hate crimes against immigrants, ethnic minorities and gay right supporters are omnipresent. The rising popularity of Golden Dawn among Greek society shows the discrimination and violence migrant workers face in the country, in spite of the state’s decision to crack-down the far-right party. An annual report conducted by Racist Violence Recording Network presented that in 2013, 166 incidents of racist violence occurred, involving 320 victims and 143 cases were committed against migrants or refugees.

Despite the controversies surrounding the Dublin system, its implementation has been hindered recently by the economic crisis. The regulation does not allow asylum seekers to move to other Member States, yet remaining in Greece does not seem like a solution neither, leaving migrants fall between two stools. On the one hand, the Dublin regulation has its flaws, and requires a modification in order to ensure the rights to asylum established by the European Charter on Human Rights. On the other hand, straight enforcement of the regulation is essential to provide asylum seekers with the same level of protection in all EU countries.

By Adriana Diaz Martin-Zamorano and Chan Cheuk Yin

Immigrants, Mafia and Putin: German Fast News


Riots in Eastern Ukraine spark concerns in Germany

The East Ukrainian city Donetsk: Pro-Russian demonstrators proclaim the “Sovereign People’s Republic”. According to the online magazine Spiegel the demonstrators intend to declare independence from the government of Kiev. They also demanded a referendum and called for Russian assistance.

Berlin is concerned by the recent actions of Moscow. The Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a pull-out away from the Ukrainian borders. The German government spokesman, Steffen Seibert says: “This has obviously not happened yet. One can be disappointed, one must be disappointed.” Meanwhile Chancellor Angela Merkel does not doubt the promise of Putin.

The Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for caution while talking about the riots in the Eastern part of Ukraine: “So far we cannot see a complete change of the situation. But I am not totally clear on what actually happens in the Eastern-Ukraine right now.”

The right-wing party NPD seeks to clean up after de-selection of candidate

NPDThe chief of the federal state Hamburg, Thomas Wulff, has been deselected by Germany’s right-wing party NPD (National Party of Germany) after he called himself a National Socialist on a Party Conference. The official justification is: Wulff has “repeatedly and fatally breached with the principles of the party.”

Wulff, acknowledged his mistake saying: “Yes, I named myself a National Socialist in an introduction speech. People must know where I come from and what I am.”  Due to the accusation of sedition Wulff is previously convicted.

Wulff’s statement is more than inconvenient for the NPD – in the following weeks the Federal Constitutional Law will decide, due to the abandonment motion of the Federal Council, if the NPD-ideology shows an affinity with the NSDAP party, which was the solely tolerated party during the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler in Germany. After the first motion in 2003 the current motion is considered much more detailed and based on facts.

Organised crime – The Italian mafia

German and Italian investigators analysed and released documents that show more than 1,200 alleged members, sympathisers and supporters of the Italian mafia live in Germany. According to Spiegel the so-called “Ndrangheta”, which mainly operates in South and West, is particularly powerful.

Mafia Despite of the fact that a large figure exists the documents show that members and supporters are spread all over Germany,  although there are less in the Northern and Eastern parts. The utilised data derives from documents obtained from the Federal  Criminal Agency, the Italian anti-mafia authorities and several prosecutions in Germany.

Immigrant language courses to be scrapped

Unemployed immigrants have struggled to improve their employment opportunities through the impact of language courses.  Despite the government’s announcement to extend the promotion, it seems the project has ended and a succession program is not  in sight.

On 1 April, the Federal Office for migration and refugees (BAMF) informed, amongst others, the regional employment agencies  that immigrants cannot expect an approval of further German courses in the near future.

Focul Online announced: The addressees of the letters hoped for an April Fool but the authorities are serious about the promotion stop. The reason: No more money. Therefore, new courses are only planned for 2015.

The programme was seen as successful despite it being scrapped. From 2007 to 2013 about 120,000 people with a migrant background have been supported. The Federal Employment Agency considers the programme as enormously important. After all it is not only about a pure language course but also about occupational abilities. According to a spokesman the agency now seeks for “compensation options”. By then the managers of job agencies must find alternative solutions to promote their customers with migrant background.

By Maria Wokurka

Pictures: Alan Denney (Ukraine protest), Olli (NPD protest), Chewstroke (Godfather)

Immigration in The Netherlands Fast News



Free joints, election fraud, mass police reports and a Dutch version of the Swiss limitation on immigration: read it all in this week´s Bottom Line by Nele Goutier.
Free joints and fraud: Regional elections in The Netherlands
With the upcoming European elections national identity is a hot topic in The Netherlands. However, this week the media have another focus, because on Wednesday the country voted in municipal elections.The big winners were the social-democrats D66, the leftwing SP and various small local parties. The results are a sign of protest and dissatisfaction with the government. The liberal VDD and the center-left PvdA, leading government parties, both lost heavily, writes the newspaper NRC.All the stops were pulled out to increase the turnout that was 54 per cent in 2010. Despite local and national politicians working day and night, the turnout this year was only 53 per cent.Het Algemeen Dagblad wrote already before the elections started that people are unfamiliar with local politicians. 50 per cent of the citizens cannot name any candidates; among the people under 35 this figure rises to 60 per cent. Moreover, De Volkskrant writes that those entitled to vote are more likely to get influenced by the media than by political campaigns, despite sometimes controversial campaigns, like the distribution of free joints in the streets of the Dutch capital city by the local party Red Amsterdam.While the political leaders held their final debates last week, the Dutch media reported about concerns of election fraud. There are signs that in a growing number of towns and cities, political parties have been asking people to donate them their ballot papers. Such fraud has been reported to the police in among others Roermond,  Soest and Alphen aan de Rijn. The Public Prosecutor Service investigates the cases, but convincing proof enabling conviction is unlikely, writes De Volkskrant.A statement made by Geert Wilders, leader of the right wing party Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV, Party for Freedom) is more likely to lead to conviction. The politician provoked a lot of controversy when he announced that people should vote for him if they wanted a city with fewer charges and less Moroccans, writes NOS. “The less Moroccans, the better”, stated Wilders.

Roel Wijnants

Roel Wijnants

On the day of the elections he asked his voters whether they would like to have more or less Moroccans in the country. The crowd replied to by shouting ´less´ thirteen times and Wilders promised to take care of that. Fouad Sidali, member of the center left Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA, Labour Party), responded by comparing Wilders to Adolf Hitler.

Thousands of people have been said to have complained about Wilders´ statements, which they consider discriminatory, to the police. Opponents of the politician have started a Facebook group page ´Ik doe aangifte tegen Wilders´ (´I report Wilders´), where people share pictures of their reports. The page has been liked by over 40,000 people. On Twitter, people with foreign backgrounds have posted selfies with their Dutch passport and ´#bornhere´.

Pieter Klein, chief editor of one of the biggest news broadcasting agency´s in The Netherlands, RTL Nieuws, publicly criticized Wilders in an open letter under the title ´Geert, ga je schamen’ (´Geert, be ashamed of yourself´). NRC, one of the biggest national news papers, also criticised Wilders´ actions. However, Wilders announced that he does not see any reason to apologize, writes NRC.

While the Public Prosecution Service investigates the case, the losing government party’s try to accept their losses and prepare for the European elections in May, and the winning parties have started negotiations about the formation of local councils.

Swiss migration referendum going Dutch?
Last week the Swiss referendum on migration shook up the continent. A similar proposal to limit immigration was the subject of debate last week in The Netherlands, where Prime-minister Mark Rutte’s party the VVD proposed a law to limit the immigration of underprivileged Dutch-Antilleans, writes Elsevier.

Inhabitants from the Caribbean islands’ Aruba, Sint-Maarten and Curaçao – part of the Dutch kingdom – would, according to the proposal, need a license if they want to establish themselves in the Netherlands for longer than six months. Such a license would only by granted to people that are able to independently provide their own income or have a family member that does. Requests could be rejected if the applicant is considered a severe threat to public order.

Opposition parties expressed heavy criticism and said the proposal, known as the Bosman Law, was in conflict with the prohibition of racial discrimination, writes De Telegraaf. They believe that the law would result in an unequal treatment of people who are supposed to have the same rights, of which freedom of movement is considered one the most important ones.

Jesus E. Vasquez

Jesus E. Vasquez

The opposition says that some Antilleans can be criticised: they are more likely to be dependent on social security and are over-represented in criminal records. However, limiting immigration would not be a solution to such problems, as is argued by the opponents of the Bosman Law; it would only be a replacement of the problem. They argue that the government should improve employment and education on the islands instead.

The Islands reacted angrily to the proposal, mostly because it was agreed in 2011 that no limitations would be made on the freedom of moment within the Dutch Kingdom. The initiating party, the VVD, argues that the islands have the same policy, that requires Dutch people to meet certain criteria before they are allowed to settle down on one of the islands.

So far it appears there is not enough support for the law to get through, but several parties have expressed their willingness to reconsider the proposal if it will be fundamentally adjusted to their critics.

Swiss Immigration Lockdowns: Behind the Scenes



February 2014: Switzerland votes in a highly controversial referendum. The issue at stake – quota’s on immigration – shook up the continent. The outcome – in which more than half of the people voted  in favor of such a quota – did so even more. Myrto Vogiatzi investigates the situation for Pandeia.

There was uproar two years ago in Basel, when Coop, the second largest retailer of Switzerland, ran an advertising campaign using the high German word for ‘to barbecue’, grillen, instead of the Swiss German grillieren. The aim was to widen its target market, since more than a quarter of Basel’s foreign residents are Germans and another 36,000 commute from Baden-Württemberg , Germany,  every day.  Quite clever, one would think. However, the ad was harshly criticized by the local media, forcing the retailer to retract the posters and issue new ones.

What the company underestimated is the country’s insecurity towards mounting immigration. About 80,000 migrants settle in Switzerland every year, making up roughly one quarter of the country’s population. This means Switzerland has one of the highest proportions of immigrants in the world. Nearly 70 per cent are EU/EEA/EFTA nationals, mostly from Germany, Italy and France. This, after all, is the result of the Free Movement of Persons Agreement signed with Brussels in 1999.

It’s an agreement 50.3 per cent of the Swiss were willing to endanger just a little over a month ago, when they approved a referendum proposal against mass migration. The initiative, led by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, requires the reintroduction of quotas as well as a national preference when filling job vacancies and restrictions of immigrants’ rights to social benefits.

The party believes the high proportion of foreigners put an undue strain on the country’s welfare system, housing and traffic infrastructure. “Now we want the power back. The government must represent the will of the Swiss people in Brussels – the sooner the better”, stated after the victory Christoph Bloecher, vice chair of the SVP. Other recent victories of the SVP include the initiative against the construction of minarets in 2009 and for the expulsion of foreign criminals in 2010.

Collective suicide
The policy itself is not an extreme one; it simply means Switzerland can exercise the traditional sovereign right to limit its immigration intake . After all, the initiative doesn’t specify where the limit should be and most countries put limits to immigration.

However, it’s still unclear how the country can conform to the proposal the people voted for without breaking with the union. There is a bilateral agreement between Switzerland and the EU that neither of both parties can renew or denounce without the agreement of the other. Changing immigration laws without the agreement of the EU would be a violation.

“The single market isn’t Swiss cheese”, European Commission vice-president Viviane Reding told the Financial Times. “You cannot have a single market with holes in it.  I doubt that member states will be ready to accept renegotiating the free movement of persons agreement alone and not touch the other bilateral agreements the EU has with Switzerland”.

Taking a more strident stance, France’s industry minister, Arnaud Montebourg, described the outcome of the vote as ‘collective suicide’, while Didier Bukhalter, Switzerland’s foreign minister, warned that the anti-immigration vote targets some of the biggest economic contributors. Trade with Germany, for example, was worth nearly 100 billion Swiss Francs in 2012, accounting for more than a quarter of the country’s total foreign trade.

As a result of the vote, the EU has already suspended Switzerland’s participation in its multi-billion-euro Horizon 2020 research program and its Erasmus student exchange scheme. It has also stopped talks on a cross-border electricity agreement. The block has also frozen the agreement to grant Croatian job seekers access to the country.

EU officials are, of course, not the only ones disturbed by the unexpected result of the referendum. The Swiss government and business lobby groups had urged a vote against the proposal, emphasizing that certain sectors – including banking, healthcare, construction and research- rely on foreign specialists: 60 per cent of employees at the pharmaceutical giant Roche are foreigners, while half of the doctors at Basel’s university hospital do not hold a Swiss passport.

Even the national football team would be left with only three players, as German television showed. In the long run, it could mean that companies invest and hire less in Switzerland, while fearing expansion. On the other hand, some Swiss firms see it as an opportunity to boost recruitment of people from outside the EU and become more competitive in Asia.

A clever strategy
The most intriguing question though remains to be asked: why did the Swiss feel the need to hold a referendum in the first place? Are they just too used to direct democracy? According to the website Travailler en Suisse (Working in Switzerland), there are currently no less than 110,000 vacant jobs in the country and more official languages than any other in Europe.

What’s more, the OECD shows that among arrivals from the EU between 2010 and 2012, 69 per cent were highly skilled. “People who come here have already been educated at the expense of other countries, and they are usually fairly young and healthy: they’re topping up Switzerland’s benefits system, but they’re not taking anything out,” George Sheldon, a New York-born academic at Basel University, told The Guardian a few weeks ago. In fact, as the National Bank SNBN said, newcomers helped output to exceed its pre-crisis level by 5 per cent, generating a gain of at least $5.44 billion annually.

Yet far-right or right-wing populist parties in Europe (including France’s National Front or UKIP’s Nigel Farage in Britain) suggest that the Swiss are fed up with immigration. What we should keep in mind is that the relationship between ‘objective’ economic factors and attitudes towards immigration is not always straightforward. The fact that many citizens used their vote to express their dissatisfaction with the government’s policy towards the EU should have been expected.

“A loss of trust in Switzerland’s business and political elite may be one of the reasons the alpine nations voted in favour of putting strict limits on immigration”, had stated Johann Schneider-Ammann, the Swiss Economy Minister, three days after the results. Indeed, this insecurity towards centre-right parties drove a considerable amount of voters to the SVP, which in turn adopted much more persuasive strategies.

Illustrating immigration as aggressive crows or a tree with monster-like roots crushing Switzerland on a campaign ad is definitely scary, and that’s the point. After all, “who could possibly be in  favor of mass anything?” said Sheldon, arguing that the most clever aspect of the SVP’s strategy was that they rarely specified what kind of immigration they were talking about.

Switzerland has three years in which to implement the amendment into legislation and renegotiate all the international treaties that contradict the new article. Reaching some kind of agreement could easily encourage other countries and euro skeptic politicians that the key principles of the EU are negotiable. But let’s not forget that Switzerland is one of the biggest importers of EU goods and its transport infrastructure provides a crucial link from northern to southern Europe. Refusing compromise is not in Europe’s interest.

Afghanistan to Greece – A migrant’s story

Courtesy of the Paola Project Team ‘The Journey of Aris from Afghanistan to Greece’ tells the remarkable tale of one man’s experiences travelling to Europe.


Being a “stranger” – a hidden story in The Netherlands

The Netherlands is often celebrated for its wide-spread tolerance and is generally regarded as a progressive and multicultural country. Less well known is that the Netherlands has been under attack by Amnesty International and the United Nations for years because of the Dutch immigration policy. Fenne van Loon examines the situation for Pandeia.

In order to protect the Dutch economy, not everyone is granted asylum by the government, leading to illegal immigrants who are referred to as “vreemdelingen” (strangers). Strangers often do not possess any documents, which makes it difficult to send them back, but also impossible to grant them asylum. What happens to strangers that are stuck in between?

According to Dutch law and international treaties, the detention of immigrants who seek a future should be a last resort. However, detention has slowly transformed into standard procedure. For humanitarian reasons, any activity of integration is actively discouraged, as this could only increase hope where there is none. Yet, it seems this system is increasingly taken too far, leading to harrowing situations that can be said to cross moral boundaries of humanity. It is therefore no surprise the lives of strangers are often hidden from society.

Behind closed doors
Some of these hiding places are the four detention centres in the Netherlands. The website of the Ministry of Justice and Safety provides a list of rules for visitors. “Physical contact: It is possible to engage in brief physical contact during the greeting and saying goodbye. During the visit more physical contact is prohibited”. This easily sets the tone of the place.

Zembla produced a documentary (De gevangenen van gebouw 4, 2012) examining the detention centre in Zeist. Through extremely strict access to the detention center, it is clear that the Netherlands officials prefer to keep the ongoings of the detention center hidden from the public eye. Once finally inside, strict rules apply. Neither filming nor interviews are allowed with the strangers or the employees.

The crew reports stuffy air that causes headaches, skin conditions and breathing problems for the immigrants. Two years earlier the health inspection officially stated the air quality was unacceptable. Nothing changed. If anything, the quality has gotten worse since new rules stated all doors must be closed for security. Doctors say it is absurd that pregnant women are living there and the building should be closed.

The use of isolation rooms is another issue. Doctors continuously say the use of isolation rooms is harmful. Everyone will become confused or even turn mad if locked up long enough. Still, a man suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was locked in an isolation room for ten days. The doctor was not surprised the man suffered from another psychosis after that. Acute medical health care is lacking shockingly often. As the health inspector voices, “We are a decent country, we even have animal police.” That is why the lack of a humane treatment for these people astounds him and many others.

Getting the message across
The documentary was made two years ago, pledging for improvements in the system and specifically drastic changes in detention centres. However, this did not help to prevent the Russian asylum seeker Dolmotov from committing suicide in detention one year later. Several investigations concluded, all too late that Dolmotov was placed in a detention centre on false grounds. Also, his suicidal thoughts should have been taken more seriously.

F. Daniëls, former chaplain of the detention centre, breaks the silence by stating that detention centres destroy any feeling of humanity. “By saying to someone he is absolutely not welcome, we don’t want to see you here, you are destroying him. They are no longer seen as people, but as an object that needs to be discharged as quickly as possible. And these people end up feeling exactly that way.”

Many immigrants in detention centres experience a sense of hopelessness, become suicidal or lose their minds. Kaba, an ex-detainee, explains in the Zembla documentary how it drove him insane. “You don’t know when you’ll get out of prison. And you didn’t even do anything wrong.” Even though the detention centres are meant to be a last short stop before people are deported, Kaba was stuck there for nine months, all the time treated like a criminal. “At least criminals know how long they will be in prison,” he says.

The rules in these centres are strict; there is nothing detainees are allowed to do. Kaba really wishes to integrate, to be part of Dutch society, but he is not given any chance since he is not allowed to stay. He cannot work or follow any form of education. Most of the time he is stuck in the system, and he says he spent his days doing nothing more than simply staring out the window. He became so depressed and desperate when he was locked up in Zeist that that he cut his arms and wrote with his own blood on the walls: “I would like to stay in the Netherlands.”

Surprising Europe (2010) is a nine-part television series documenting the experiences of African immigrants in Europe. Again the isolation room in Zeist is mentioned. “You have to undress, even your underwear. There you sit in pajamas. They have hit me with a stick. They put a foot against my neck. They held me to the ground that way and they tied me,” one man says, speaking to those who might be thinking of migrating from Africa. “Don’t ever go to the Netherlands. You should never come here. Never. If you come here, you must be very, very stupid.” Ultimately, this is the message the Dutch government wants to get across.

Life after detention
The officials’ response is that immigrants may leave prison and country whenever they want, as long as they cooperate. According to several experts, this is a lie. Only 25% of all strangers can be sent back to native countries. Another 25% are sent to a different country and 50% of the people are released to the streets without any documents, risking arrest and imprisonment at any time.

The Human Doc. documentary (Lost lives, 2012) follows several illegal immigrants released onto the streets. One man has been living in the Netherlands for 16 years now, four of them in detention. Officials questioned his nationality, and he was therefore not granted asylum. He has been deported to Liberia seven times, and to Ghana four times, always being sent back to the Netherlands right away. Nobody wants him.

Likewise, an Afghan man is not granted his asylum, despite his wife and children recieving theirs. He is officially labelled “suspicious” because he once served in the Afghan military and is accused of war crimes, though there is no proof. He attempted to prove his innocence by requeting his own criminal trial. It was refused because of insufficient proof, and he still remains a suspect. He cannot work and feels that he is missing out on life throughout this long process. “I lost a quarter of my life. It just disappeared, I didn’t do anything.”

A woman with a baby had 24 hours to leave the Netherlands, but nowhere to go. She voices the myth of safety in Europe saying, “Europe, you think human rights, friendly people. You’re finally safe. Nobody is going to discriminate you, or abuse you. All the things I flew away from. And then you come here, and nothing happens.” Many express that the worst part is the feelings of being unacknowledged, unwanted. Having to move repeatedly, always being sent away, with nowhere to call ‘home’.

In one of the interviews an eight year old girl who was born and has lived her entire life in the Netherlands reveals her biggest wish: “To get a passport.” Only then will her life finally be acknowledged.

The immigration debate remains a difficult dilemma that affects many lives. No country will allow free access to everybody. However, what is happening behind closed doors is steadily transcending the issue from an economical dilemma to a humanitarian disaster.