Chain of fools

Junior justice minister Fred Teeven sees refugees and asylum seekers as mere numbers on a conveyor belt that preferably leads right back to their home countries, writes Garry Piggott.

Last week junior justice minister Fred Teeven survived a parliamentary motion of no confidence, following a series of outrageous – and potentially illegal – bungles that led to the unfortunate death of a Russian asylum seeker.

Aleksander Dolmatov killed himself after being placed in a deportation cell. The vote on Teeven’s fitness as a minister followed the publication of a damning report listing the numerous failings in how Dolmatov had been treated.

It emerged, for instance, he should never have been in the cell at all, as he had been incorrectly labelled ‘removable’ and incarcerated while his appeal was still pending. He had also been denied access to proper medical care and his own lawyer. Medical staff in the Rotterdam detention centre were given only the briefest of details of Dolmatov’s attempt at suicide the day before his death, so he was not placed on suicide watch.

300 others

Meanwhile, Teeven had already been forced to admit that as many as 300 other asylum seekers had been wrongly classified as ‘removable’ (don’t you just love the language of bureaucracy) by immigration officials, as their appeal process was still ongoing. At least seven people had been deported and brought back to the Netherlands following legal action.

While Teeven admitted the ultimate responsibility for the mistakes, he said he preferred to step up and act rather than step down. He said he was launching an investigation into the treatment of asylum seekers and the failings of the Immigration and Naturalisation service (IND) and promised improvements. That’s all right then.

The problem is that it was long known that asylum seekers were being treated poorly and that medical and psychiatric care are at best inadequate, while health problems are regularly downplayed or ignored altogether.

No crime

And that asylum seekers – who have not committed any crime – are frequently subject to stricter incarceration than the convicted criminals in the Dutch prisons Teeven is so keen to close. A lot stricter if Teeven gets his way and prisoners are allowed to complete their prison sentences at home, as long as they’ve been fitted with an ankle bracelet.

Teeven also announced earlier this month that he will be taking direct control of the COA, the semi-independent agency that organises accommodation for asylum seekers. He said at the time he would look at the possibility of merging the COA with the IND and the agency responsible for deporting failed asylum seekers.

Oddly enough, Dutch media have devoted very few column inches to this ministerial move to seize control of what the ministry itself refers to as the ‘entire asylum chain’, to improve efficiency (and cut costs).

Good heavens, the next thing Teeven will be announcing is the ‘asylum chain’ should be thrown open to market forces, just like hospitals, dentists and every other element of the dwindling welfare state. I for one can’t wait for Teeven to unveil the new business model for refugees and asylum seekers.

Political thug

But seriously, is Fred Teeven the right man to deal with fragile and frequently traumatised asylum seekers? He is a political thug of the highest order, a man who seems to lack any compassion or empathy and who very obviously sees refugees and asylum seekers as mere numbers on a conveyor belt that preferably leads right back to their home countries.

Very recently – and amid the turmoil caused by the Dolmatov debacle – Teeven announced he wants to change the law so that his officers can invade the homes of suspected illegal immigrants without the search warrant required for suspected criminals. And barely anybody batted an eyelid.

But then it’s long been obvious that Teeven has little respect for the rule of law. After all, he was junior justice minister when he condoned the killing of a burglar by the owners of the home he was burgling. That’s a risk burglars take, Teeven said dismissively.

So what risks are we taking putting the fate of asylum seekers in the hands of a man like Fred Teeven? Perhaps more importantly, should their fate be driven entirely by the dubious political agenda of the so-called free market liberal VVD party? Because it will be once Teeven has destroyed any remnants of independence.

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