‘Now that I stop eating, will the IND take action?’

‘Now that I stop eating, will the IND take action?’
‘Now that I stop eating, will the IND take action?’
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Syrian asylum seeker Mohamed Maksous is in despair, now that the Immigration and Naturalization Service is not contacting him. It made him commit a violent act.

Marjolein van de WaterNovember 22, 202305:00

Mohamed Maksous did not tell his mother that he is starting a hunger strike on Wednesday. “I don’t want her to worry,” said the 19-year-old Syrian. “I’d rather tell her I’m doing fine, even though I’m having a pretty bad night’s sleep.” He shrugs and sighs deeply. “I really believe that everything will work out in the end,” he continues. ‘Now that I stop eating, will the IND take action?’

In 2022, there were 105 million people on the run worldwide, 31,594 of whom applied for asylum in the Netherlands. One of them is Mohamed Maksous, a boy with a soft voice, big eyes and black glasses. He reported to Ter Apel more than a year ago, and seven months later he had his first appointment with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND). Since then he has been waiting for an invitation for a second interview.

After ‘about five’ moves from one temporary accommodation to another, Maksous now lives on a cruise ship on the outskirts of Amsterdam. It is a blue colossus, with clouds and giraffes painted on the sides. On one side is the traffic of the A10, on the other side is a fertilizer factory.

Maksous comes outside, he is not allowed to receive unannounced visitors inside. “I think the IND has forgotten me,” he says, pulling up his hood against the drizzle. But the latest IND figures show that Maksous is certainly no exception: 42 thousand asylum seekers and almost 26 thousand subsequent travelers are currently waiting for a decision from the IND, the average waiting time is more than a year.

Safe place to study

Maksous’s story, the details of which he must tell the IND in a second interview, does not feature any rickety boats or human smugglers. Those who like to divide migrants into boxes might even label Maksous as a ‘happiness seeker’. The choices he made in his young life mainly stem from a deeply cherished wish to study in a safe place. ‘And now my life has come to a standstill.’

Maksous’ parents moved from Idlib, Syria, to Saudi Arabia twenty years ago to work there. It is virtually impossible for migrant workers to obtain Saudi nationality or permanent residency. Their children born in Saudi Arabia, such as Mohamed, are also not eligible. “I wanted to study, but I couldn’t get into universities,” he says. That is why he left for Istanbul in 2021, where he started studying technology.

Turkey already hosted 3.4 million Syrian migrants, partly because of a migration agreement that the country concluded with the European Union in 2016. And not everyone in Turkey is happy with all these newcomers; racism and violence are a growing problem. Maksous tells how he was sometimes attacked by racists on crowded buses. “It’s because of the economic crisis,” he says. ‘Syrians are blamed for all the problems.’

Sleepless nights

Maksous only really started having sleepless nights when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced in the spring of 2022 that he wanted to deport a million Syrians to northern Syria. Human rights groups had previously raised the alarm about illegal deportations, and panic struck the Syrian community. “What if they deported me?” Maksous says with fear in his eyes. ‘I’ve never been to Syria!’

He could not return to Saudi Arabia either: ‘I no longer have a residence permit, I only have my Syrian passport.’ Maksous managed to arrange a tourist visa for the European Union, flew to Hungary, traveled by train to the Netherlands and applied for asylum. “My sister lives here,” he says. “She already has asylum.”

Maksous only experienced the fall of the cabinet indirectly. He also did not know that political parties have since been campaigning with promises about ‘asylum quotas’ and measures to limit ‘the influx’. He is very surprised to hear that many Dutch people think there are too many asylum seekers. “I actually think the people here are very nice.”

Fights in the asylum seekers’ center

Life in the asylum seekers’ centers is ‘quite difficult’, he thinks. ‘There are troublemakers, some have psychological problems. I was in a tent camp for a while, where there were a lot of fights.’ On the cruise ship he shares his room with another man, with whom he gets along well. “But the room is tiny and has no windows.”

Maksous tries to use his time usefully. ‘I help with cleaning every day, for which I receive a volunteer allowance of 14 euros per week.’ He uses this to buy bread, cheese and peanut butter in the nearest supermarket, about a half-hour walk away. ‘On the ship we sometimes get chicken that is not cooked properly, that’s why.’

He wants to learn Dutch and contacted various language schools. ‘But I can’t go there because I don’t have any documents.’ Now he is trying to teach himself Dutch, in addition to self-studying mathematics. “When I get a residence permit, I want to study cybersecurity,” he says. ‘So then math is important.’

Maksous says he is ‘near despair because of the endless waiting’. Hence his decision to stop eating on November 22. “I’ll hold out until the IND invites me for my interview,” he says determinedly. The IND says it ‘finds it terrible’ that people like Maksous have to wait so long. “But we have a huge capacity problem and a hunger strike will not speed up the procedure,” a spokesperson said. “That wouldn’t be fair to everyone else either.”

The article is in Dutch

Tags: stop eating IND action

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