Portraits from Wij Zijn Hier, Yoonis Osman

by Paolo Rosi

© Virginia Zoli

“I arrived in the Netherlands 12 years ago”, says Yoonis Osman, “I left Somalia to Istanbul and I tried to enter Greece but at the border with Turkey I heard the explosions and realised that I had to take another route.”

Osman now lives in Amsterdam and he his one of the refugees of the Wij Zijn Hier collective, “I took in Turkey one of those rubber boat you now see everyday in the newspapers. But back then, in 2003, it was not so popular in the media. I was with other eight people while, close to Lesbo, the boat sunk.”

© Virginia Zoli
© Virginia Zoli

Once arrived in the island the police arrested Osman along with his travel companions. “We were brought in a prison. There were just hundreds mattresses and one single toilet. For three months we had to stay there and then we were released with a paper saying we had to leave Greece. But to go where?”

Osman moved to Athens, where some Somali families helped him. “After a while I managed to take a plane to Amsterdam. Here I first sought asylum and I was put in an AZC [In Dutch asielzoekerscentrum, center for asylum seekers, n.d.r]. The problem is that my fingerprints had been taken in Greece and they wanted to send me back there. So I escaped to Sweden.”

In Sweden Osman was finally given a house, because Greece was recognised as an unsafe country for refugees. But in 2008, due to the Dublin Regulation, he was again sent back to The Netherlands where he is currently waiting for the results of the asylum procedure. “I asked five times for asylum, but the system works well in theory and not in practice. The IND [Immigration Office, n.d.r] uses a list of questions in order to find out where are you from. But they speak Dutch very quickly and even if you have a translator, translators can fail or just knowing a very poor Dutch.”

Officers ask question based on a given form. “Yes, and it’s based on a Western way of thinking. If you ask someone ‘how many kilometres is the nearest mosque’, you assume people are counting in metres and not just walking. When you ask about time, they assume people have clocks or televisions in their home, and that everybody sees time through objects.”

© Virginia Zoli
© Virginia Zoli

So for simple misunderstandings could happen that the IND sent you to the Deportation Office (DVT). “And the problem is that the IND and the DVT do not cooperate. The result is what happened to all of us, we are stuck in a limbo because the DTV found out we cannot be deported. And suddenly you are on the street.” 

So for those who obtain the asylum, things work averagely easier. But for the others? “The gap is huge”, continues Osman, “people can get a residence permit in two months and others in 20 years. There are people who could have been integrated a long time ago, but with the Linkage Act that connects welfare and social services to a residence permit, you have these kind of problems. I personally spoke to the former major of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, the one who then proposed the Act, and he said the idea was to minimise assistance in order to discourage people to come and stay here, but he also admitted that he was wrong.” 

And in practice the Linkage Act does not work. Osman knows many stories of migrants who spent years in detention or live in a limbo like the refugees of Wij Zijn Hier. “They do it on purpose, for a matter of public opinion. Along with all these ideas of closing borders and reducing Schengen. People are dying at the border with Hungary or in the middle of the sea and Fort Europe is doing nothing. Europe should be ashamed of herself, because not so long ago the Europeans were also refugees.”

At the end, it seems that Europe, or at least Greece and Holland, did not treat Osman in a tremendously democratic way. “I am glad to be in Europe, I spoke to lots of people and politicians and most of them think the same that I do. And for democracy… At this point I don’t really care: I understand democracy, I accept it and I live according to its principles as an individual. I mingle. I could even sit down with Wilders for a chat…”

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