Greg Shapiro: Sinterklaas with the refugees

Last Friday, the refugee tent camp in Amsterdam Osdorp was cleared out by the police. Greg Shapiro visited their new home.

With 100 or so asylum-seekers looking for shelter, a group of Dutch activists stepped in to offer help. It was the Student Squatters Association that offered the location: the empty St. Josef Kerek in Bos en Lommer.

The owner of the space dropped by to ask what the hell was going on. But – after a quick look around – he decided not to call the police. It turns out the space had recently been used by a climbing club, so it has showers and sanitary facilities. So, instead, he offered the use of his space as a shelter. Maybe it’s because it was Sinterklaas, but not every real estate developer is a bad guy.

So – who are these people? I decided to find out for myself. As it happened, we were in the process of getting rid of an old sofa and an old TV. For the record, the city of Amsterdam requests you to dispose of sofas and TVs by chucking them out on the street. We figured: why not lump them into the car & see how much we can fit? I made the trip. I squeezed a sofa, a tv, a kettle and a CD player into our car, and I drove over to Bos en Lommer.

It turns out that the St. Josefkerk is on a nice piece of land, combined with one of the worst examples of religious architecture ever devised. In that it is an ex-church, I believe one could appropriately use the word ‘Godforsaken.’

I pulled up in the driveway, and – in the Dutch Sinterklaas tradition – I was greeted by a white Dutchman who instructed his dark-skinned helpers to get to work. Quickly, I became Mr. Popular. There were more than enough people to help lift the sofa into the church. The sofa was claimed by Osman from Sudan. The TV was claimed by a man whose name I can’t pronounce from Somalia. And the CD player was claimed by Izedin from Sudan as well.

Most of the 90+ people on hand are from Sudan and Somalia, it seems. Their plight is to be determined by Amsterdam Mayor van der Laan and the Dutch government.

SO – If you got any gifts that you happen to hate, I’ve got a tip for you: donate them to the organized asylum-seekers in Amsterdam. This could be the best Christmas story ever.

You can read the background here.

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