While the financial crisis has Europe in its grip, the fields of asylum and migration are falling into oblivion. Asylum seekers, however, are one of the groups in society that suffer the most. A portrait.
Jamal Jaoudi is 20. When he turned eleven, he decided to try to change his luck, searching for it elsewhere in this world. He could no longer endure the hopelessness and poverty that surrounded him at home. One day, he hid underneath a truck and hitchhiked to the West. For five years he wandered the streets of Spain, looking for work, in order to survive.
Due to the financial crisis of 2008, Spain had been hit hard, and after five years of surviving the streets, he decided it was time for yet another move. At sixteen years of age, Jamal ended up in Belgium. He had high hopes of finally turning his life around for the better. That hope turned out to be false.
On the eight of March 2012, after 55 days of hunger strike, he took a needle and sewed his lips together. He was tired, left out of words and this was his final attempt to demand attention for himself and for others like him, living in the same inhuman situation.
Right before sewing up his mouth, he wrote a letter, in which he asks a one year permit for residency and a labour permit form C, so he’d be allowed to work legally in our country. “We no longer want to live in a dead alley. I don’t want to live like an animal. 23 people here, are still suffering after 55 days of hunger strike. This is unjust, and that’s why I sewed my lips together. We only ask the right to live a dignified life and the acknowledgement of us being humans.”
55 days of hunger strike and yet, nobody of the responsible authorities came to see or hear them. A few people, like the Brussels priest Daniel Alliët, doctor Rita Vanobberghen and a group of students from the VUB, are the only ones trying, in one way or the other, to support the people in hunger strike.
Where are the institutions that fight for asylum seekers and human rights? Where are the professors en the rector of the VUB? Where is the outrage of other students, of other people? And above all that: where is the responsible secretary of state, Maggie De Block?
In a short message, the secretary of state declared she would ‘not act outside the law’ Which law are you talking about, Mrs. De Block? Undoubtedly you aren’t talking about international or European laws, since you are violating those ones. In the past months Belgium has been convicted several times for violating the laws on human rights. Asylum seekers are being treated like scum in our country.
No Mrs secretary of state, you aren’t talking about those laws. You only speak of all those new constructions, you and your party created, under pressure by the extreme right parties as there are Vlaams Belang and NV-A. Those laws only serve one purpose: to not respect human rights. Excluding people. ‘The more people leave, the better.’ Those are your words, Mrs De Block.
Your new memo ‘Asylum and migration’ shows you have no vision regarding the subject. I find this very disturbing because, whether you like it or not, your job is (literally and figuratively speaking) of vital importance for thousands of people, staying in this country and for those yet to arrive here.
To be able to make the right choices regarding asylum and migration, there is the need for someone in charge, who is competent and familiar with the issues. Especially when the core of the problem is an inhumane and unjust policy.
Pleading for a humane policy is not the same as saying: ‘Just let everybody come over here’. That’s making a mock of the debate, which is dominated by one way of thinking: severe actions against and exclusion of asylum seekers. That’s what this policy managed to do very well. Nearly 11 000 people looking for asylum ended on the streets, in the past two years.
In short, there’s a desperate need for a humane and righteous asylum- and migration policy for all people staying on our territory. The government has to take on its responsibility, while all other different kind of institutions and organisations, can help to support.
‘The right for a dignified life and the acknowledgement of being human’ is Jamals demand. He has that right. Hopefully he will be permitted that right before it’s too late. If not, Mrs De Block, you being the secretary of state for asylum and migration are the main person responsible. As you today, are already responsible, for the scars he has to wear the rest of his life.
Bleri Lleshi is a political philosopher
Translated from Dutch to English by Ann Blanckaert