by Freddy Rodriguez
Some may say Dutch border police were sending a “Dutch direct” message when they essentially imprisoned three Moroccan hip-hop dancers visiting the Netherlands early this year. The three dancers arrived at the Eindhoven airport and were sent to a detention centre by Dutch officials where they spent at least five days, according to cultural activist Maria Daïf. At this Rotterdam centre, which is used for undocumented migrants, the dancers were allegedly not told how long they’d stay detained, received unreliable legal advice and could only leave their cells for about two hours each day. The fiasco began on January 10 and partly ended on January 15 when two of the artists were transferred from Rotterdam to the Eindhoven airport for a flight bound for Marrakech. All this happened despite the dancers possessing visas to stay in the Netherlands.
From a legal perspective, member states of the Schengen Area are legally allowed to deny entry for short-stay visa holders; officers at passport control may decide to refuse entry for a number of reasons, including insufficient funds of support, reason for visit and perceived length of stay. However, these discretional powers raise questions in the midst of rising anti-immigrant sentiment within European politics. Does profiling contribute to the rejection of certain individuals? Are there nationalities and ethnicities overrepresented in the portion of people who are denied entry at passport control?
Daïf, who lives in Morocco and highlighted the aforementioned incident, believes Schengen officials have biases toward people from countries like hers. “Europe definitely considers the citizens of the southern countries, whether artists or not, as dangerous for its security,” she tells 31mag.nl. In the case of the three Moroccan dancers, passport control denied and detained them on the grounds of “lack of means of subsistence and lack of evidence of the reasons for their travel,” according to Daïf. A foreign national who wants to enter the Netherlands must possess at least €34 per day for period of stay. The dancers arrived at Eindhoven on January 10 and two of them were scheduled to return to Morocco on January 17, meaning they would each need to have a minimum of €238 for their trip. The group only had about €300.
Although the Moroccan artists lacked the necessary funds to enter the Netherlands, most travellers from countries in the Global North appear to rarely encounter situations where they are asked to prove their subsistence. Furthermore, while the Schengen officers allegedly said the dancers didn’t provide sufficient proof of their reason for travel, two in the group are a part of The Lions Crew Collective, which the New York Times praised in 2018. Despite this information, along with Dutch hosts waiting for them outside the airport, officials denied the artists entry and then detained them for five to seven days. “[The dancers are] loaded into a van and transferred to a detention centre for undocumented migrants in Rotterdam . . . [even though] they have both valid passports and visas,” Daïf writes when describing the situation. “They don’t know how long they’re going to stay.”
Daïf says she has heard of numerous other instances in which artists from the Global South experience hardship when facing off with Schengen Area passport control. In one example she cited, an EU consular agent asked a group of dancers to prove their talents. “You are a dancer, prove it and dance in front of me,” Daïf recalls. Despite this humiliating “show and tell,” Daïf says the recent story of the three Moroccan dancers appears to be the first of its kind, where a group of artists are not only denied entry but are detained. This incident acts as a tipping point in the relationship between the EU and the south, sending a clear message. “[The story marks] a kind of escalation, a warning against those who still believe that they are welcome in Europe,” she writes.
Restricted mobility also hurts Europe
Cultural information mobility group On the Move connects artists visiting foreign countries to local networks that can advise them on questions related to their visas, among other issues. The service can be particularly useful for people deemed as possessing “high immigration risks,” a label officials may attribute to those they believe might stay in a country past their allotted time. Country of origin acts as a widely used indicator in determining whether someone fits this category. Thus, people traveling to Europe from less developed nations experience difficulties when attempting to enter the continent. Marie Le Sourd, secretary general of On the Move, says that while people from emerging countries generally find it challenging to visit Europe, artists in particular face unique visa issues associated with their working conditions: their trips can be frequent and short-term, their work may not be understood by all countries and their income can be irregular, which may hinder their ability to meet the subsistence requirement.
Since artists often aim to reach an international audience, touring Europe proves important for their livelihoods. Growing hostility from European officials toward people from the south is devastating for those who want to take their art from local to global. La Sourd says that incidents similar to the one described by Daïf are becoming more common in Europe, occurring in other Schengen countries, such as Belgium and France. In one example she cited, actions from Belgian border authorities led to a theatre’s cancellation of a performance by Faustin Linyekula, a Congolese choreographer who aims to explore postcolonialism through his work. The festival that invited Linyekula—titled Same Same But Different—sought to highlight decolonisation, focusing on the complex relationship between Belgian institutions and artists from the Global South. Some may find it bizarre that a festival that aimed to discuss decolonisation was unable to showcase an artist who originated from a nation its host country colonised. When cases like this happen, La Sourd says her network shares them on social media and to policy makers in hopes to initiate change.
Furthermore, On the Move collaborated with PEARL*, the European sector federation of music and live performances, to battle the issue of restricted mobility. The federation coordinated a campaign to call on European institutions to consider the specific needs of the cultural industry. “The cultural sector in Europe desires transparent and easy application processes when inviting artists, cultural professionals, touring groups, and others from visa-required countries,” On the Move writes. Eighty organisations joined the campaign, demanding Europe to reevaluate their treatment of foreign artists. But campaigns such as these can only do so much to combat the growing phenomenon of limited mobility of creatives. Refusing to accept artists from the south will continue to dampen Europe’s artistic legacy until Europe recognises and appreciates the impact these people have on their society. “[Allowing artists to enter Europe] is important for market opportunities, visibility, cultural exchange and also for the sake of diversity,” Le Sourd says to 31mag.nl. “More than ever we need such diversity represented on European stages and international connections of European arts and cultural sector.”
Daïf goes one step further, saying that refusing artists the ability to share their art on the global stage not only hinders cultural exchange but also denies them a fundamental right. “They are aware that to grow artistically, they need to discover other scenes, to measure themselves against the dancers of the world,” Daïf writes. “It is this right, that of discovering the creation of a part of the world, to show theirs and to meet other publics which is denied to them. Reducing the mobility of artists is an infringement of their rights, [and] it is a form of censorship.”