Detention of aliens

Undocumented aliens comprise fully 25% of the Dutch prison population. They’re locked up in one of the four detention centers in Alphen aan den Rijn, Zeist, Schiphol Airport, and Rotterdam.  The average detention period is 97 days, which is very long in comparison to neighboring countries. The average detention is 23 days in Belgium and 42 days in Germany. What have all these migrants done wrong for them to have to spend so much time behind bars?

Difficult to expel: 18 months in detention
An asylum seeker whose application has been denied by the Immigration Service (IND) is allowed to stay in a reasonably comfortable refugee center for 4 weeks to work on their return to their home country.  This period is rarely sufficient to arrange the return.
In addition, the asylum seeker has a right to appeal the IND ruling in local and superior courts.  Of course, the asylum seeker wants to remain in the Netherlands during this procedure.  But if the asylum seeker has not left the country after 4 weeks and has not been able to obtain an injunction from the court, Aliens Detention may follow.  The goal of this is too arrange a forced return.
The Return and Departure Service (DT&V) often requires the help of the home country to enable migrants to be sent back.  This is because the migrant cannot be put on an airplane without valid travel documents.  Far from all countries of origin have an interest in issuing a valid travel document such as a Laissez Passer.  Embassies usually take a long time to react, and sometimes they never do.
According to the European Return Directive, a maximum of 6 months applies to Aliens Detention, with the option to extend this to 18 months if the migrant does not cooperate with his or her return to the home country.  The Netherlands, more than other countries, decides in a surprising number of cases that the six-month term can be exceeded.
This can mean that a migrant stays in Aliens Detention for 18 months without actually having committed a crime.
Infringing upon human rights
Amnesty international has criticized Dutch Aliens Detention for years.  Seeking asylum is a human right, and undocumented residency is not a criminal offense.  Jailing asylum seekers should be an ultimate remedy.  But in the Netherlands, alien detention has basically become the norm, and its absence the exception.
In addition, alien detention has a more restrictive regime than criminal detention.  Migrants cannot work, do not have a fixed daily schedule, and spend much more time locked in their cells.  Amnesty international concludes that the Netherlands is guilty of infringing upon human rights.

Inhumane, mind numbing, disproportionate
Refugees spend 16 hours a day cooped up in a space of 2x5m (7x17ft) with one other refugee.  They have no meaningful way to spend their days, such as paid work or education.  In contrast, criminal detainees can participate in such activities. This has the aim of reintegration into society, which is absent in the case of deportable aliens in the view of the Dutch government. Refugees have no access to Internet or personal telephones and only limited access to a public telephone.  They can only receive visitors for 2 hours a week, and always under the supervision of guards.  Contacts with lawyers are limited and leave, such as in the case of the birth of a refugee’s child or when a family member dies, is almost never granted.
When the refugees are being transported to a hospital or their lawyer they are always handcuffed, often stick pants are applied too, and they are regularly subjected to the humiliating experience of a full body cavity search, sometimes even after the visit of a family member.
Many have criticized the Dutch practice with respect to Aliens Detention. The National Ombudsman Alexander Brenninkmeijer recently called the prison regime inhumane and mind-numbing; in 2012, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture called the Dutch system disproportionate, since any reasonable link between the severity of the crime and its punishment has been lost.
Getting fresh with the guard: into solitary confinement
Refugees in detention run a constant risk of being put in solitary confinement.  This extreme measure is used in extreme quantities.  On average, aliens are put in solitary confinement 900 times a year, spending an average of seven days there.  The reason varies from fresh remarks to a guard, arguments with a cellmate, refusing medication or a humiliating full body cavity search, to threatening to commit suicide or go into hunger strike.  Often it is the psychiatric patients among the detainees who end up in the isolation ward, which can only lead to a worsening of their condition.  In 2012, the Health Care Inspectorate urged the government (after conducting research into the situation) to minimize the number of alien detainees in solitary confinement, and to completely refrain from it in the case of psychiatric patients.

Care: substandard
Health care in the detention centers is the subject of many complaints.  The National Support Center for the Undocumented (LOS), which has set up a hotline for health care complaints, reports that detainees often do not feel taken seriously when they ask for a doctor. It often takes days before they actually get to see a physician, and weeks or months may pass before they are allowed to go to the hospital.  Regularly, they are suddenly released on the day that they are scheduled to go to the hospital.  By coincidence?  Or an attempt to reduce costs?

Violent Deportation and its consequences
When aliens are actually expelled, they often resist fiercely. They are taken to the Airport in handcuffs, and heavy violence against the expellee is not a rare occurrence.  To avoid protests by indignant fellow passengers, these transports are usually carried out by special Frontex flights.  The Dutch government does not feel responsible for what happens to refugees after they have been dumped in their country of origin.  The best-case scenario is that they are immediately sent back, but alarming messages about the immediate arrest of expelled refugees (and everything that may follow after an arrest) are all too common.

Undeportable: go live on the streets
If DT&V decides that deportation is simply not going to happen, refugees are ‘tossed out’, meaning that they are sent out onto the streets.  Without shelter or services they are then supposed to organize their own return to their home country…. until they are arrested again for lack of valid documents! These people thus end up in a hopeless cycle of detention-streets-detention. On average, over 25% of detained aliens has been in an Aliens Detention center before; about 30% of those has been detained two or more times, and about 10% four or more times.  The current record is held by two refugees who were able to ‘celebrate’ their 12th stay in alien detention in 2010.

After 5 months of detention: little chance of success
There’s little reason for optimism about the effectiveness of alien detention.  Only a quarter of the detained refugees are ultimately deported to their country of origin, with another quarter sent onward to another country or readmitted into the asylum procedure.  The other 50% will eventually end up on the streets.  Research has concluded that after five months of alien detention, the chance of successful deportation has become minimal.

And the cost…
The Dutch System of Aliens Detention causes substantial psychological harm to the refugees in detention.  The humiliating treatment, the violence, the lack of privacy, the lack of activity and the destabilizing effects of solitary confinement will have lifelong defects on those involved.  It also costs human lives.  The number of suicides in Aliens Detention is a well-kept secret, with horrid details coming out only sporadically; a recent example is the Russian political activist Aleksandr Dolmatov. And then there is the financial side. Detention costs €200 per person per day.  In addition, the costs of damage claims awarded due to unjustified detention, estimated at  €100 per person per day, plus the costs of legal assistance and transportation. In 2012, the total cost was estimated at €155,000,000!

Actie ‘Geen vluchteling op straat of in de cel’ op 23 maart 2013 georganiseerd door vluchtelingen uit de ‘Vluchtkerk’ in Amsterdam en het ‘Vluchthuis’ in Den Haag samen met ondersteunende organisaties.