Asylum hunger strikers urged to join forces
13 February 2004
AMSTERDAM — A refugee organisation has advised rejected asylum seekers who wish to start a hunger strike in protest against the government’s amnesty and deportation policy to do so as a group to gain better publicity.
Hundreds of asylum seekers have indicated they are prepared to start a hunger strike in a last-ditch effort to gain a Dutch residence permit. Refugee organisation Prime is looking for suitable locations, such as churches.
“I tell them that they can get more attention from the media with five or ten people. Preferably with a hundred,” Prime chairman Ahmed Pouri said.
Pouri also said individual hunger strikers will not achieve anything with isolated, desperate actions, newspaper De Volkskant reported on Friday.
The call to join forces came after the government recently gave 2,300 asylum seekers a residence permit in a one-off amnesty, but also announced plans to deport 26,000 others. The policy was devised to clear a backlog in asylum requests lodged with the immigration service IND.
But the plans met with stiff opposition from the community, churches and opposition MPs, but ultimately won approval when government coalition parties the Christian Democrat CDA, Liberal VVD and Democrat D66 backed the policy on Monday. Opposition against the plans, however, remains publicly visible and vocal.
Hunger strikes in the Netherlands are not uncommon. Pouri supported 126 so-called white illegal immigrants who went on an 18-day hunger strike in the Agnes Church in The Hague about six years ago.
White illegals are a hidden group of people who live and work in the Netherlands. They also have a tax file number (sofinummer) and pay tax, but do not have legal residence status.
Pouri also backed five Iraqi Kurds who refused to eat for 95 days in the western Dutch cities of Waddinxveen and Alphen aan den Rijn in 2001. Their action was the longest hunger strike in Dutch history.
But Pouri denied allegations that he was encouraging the latest group of potential hunger strikers to initiate protest action. He said they should voluntarily make contact with official organisations about their decision to start a hunger strike.
“They say they would preferably die in the Netherlands than be forced to turn back,” he said.
Both the Dutch Refugee Council (Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland) and Prime have said they do not officially support hunger strikes. The council said hunger strikes can have a negative impact on an asylum seeker’s situation and is urging them to keep eating and drinking.
But some asylum seekers hope that extreme actions — such as that by Iranian Mehdy Kavousi who sewed his mouth and eyes closed on Sunday — will mobilise the media to force the government into yielding ground.
Hunger strikes rarely succeed, but there have been no deaths, the Volkskranrt reported. But Prime chairman Pouri said that hunger strikes do succeed in allowing people to eventually stay in the country.
The actions of Kavousi have attracted widespread media attention, prompting Zaanstad Mayor Ruud Vreeman to write a pressing letter to Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk.
Kavousi was a vivid element of a protest in The Hague on Monday as 2,500 people demonstrated against the government’s amnesty and deportation plan. His Dutch wife said his self-inflicted wounds were a desperate act.
The rejected asylum seeker — who is listed to be deported after having lost his bid for asylum in 2002 — cut the stitches holding his eyes closed on Thursday and also started drinking again to regain strength for a hearing with immigration service IND, which has been brought forward 10 days.
He hopes to be granted a residence permit based on his marriage to Dutch national Marjon Kavousi. He is continuing with his hunger strike, but is drinking water with electrolytes to prevent liver and kidney problems. The stitches holding his eyes closed were cut open because his eyes had become infected.
The Volkskrant newspaper wrote on Friday that the stitches holding both the man’s eyes and mouth had been cut open, but a spokesman for the Zaanstad Council said he believed that Kavousi’s mouth was still sewed shut. He said a city Alderman who visited Kavousi on Thursday had confirmed this.
Kavousi’s hearing with the IND had originally been scheduled for 26 February, but will be brought forward to Monday due to his health, news agency ANP reported. The family is now believed to have retreated from the public sphere to prepare for the hearing.
Meanwhile, De Johannes Wier Stichting — a foundation that advices the doctors of hunger strikers — is expecting a wave of new hunger strikes, claiming that the tough government policy has provoked the protests.
Spokesman Coen van Ojen also said that “people who are convinced of their right to a residence permit can’t see a way out anymore”.
He predicted that 1 percent, or 260 people, of the 26,000 asylum seekers singled out for deportation will decide to go out on a hunger strike.
But government institutes and doctors who regularly confront asylum seeker hunger strikers said such people are responsible for the consequences of their actions.
Despite this, every hunger striker has a right to medical assistance from a doctor, who must respect the decision of the protester.
The doctor can persuade the person to start eating again, but only in cases where the hunger striker is judged to be unable to give informed consent will a decision be made to force-feed him or her.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news