At number 32 of Joan Muyskenweg, in the middle of a grey industrial area faraway from the tourists and “creative” colours of Amsterdam’s city centre, a unique social experiment is happening in the Vluchtmaat. One side of the building houses members from the movement “We are here”: a group of about forty refugees without residence permits, mainly from Ethiopia and Eritrea. They squatted this building in 2014 in order to have a space to live (the occupation has been legalized since then). The other side of the building hosts several independent professionals such as freelance creatives and social entreperneurs. Among those stands out the group Here to Support, an association that supports the cause of undocumented refugees organizing activities and events to highlight the difficult time faced by those migrants who don’t hold a “status”. “It is important to value the group and make their voice heard,” says Savannah, working full-time for Here to Support. Here to Support is in constant dialogue with the other freelancers and organizations that compose the non-refugee side of the Vluchtmaat and all together, through a real mutual aid policy, turned the space in a productive, politically and socially active environment.
Thijs Tennekes is a graphic designer active in one of the work spaces. He was tired of working from home and looking for a studio: “I liked the idea that there was a mutual help: to have a space for me and at the same time helping people who do not have a place to stay,” he says. Despite being one of the newcomers, he was involved in the creation of the logo for Vluchtmaat and interacts with the refugees, helping them if necessary. “Once I accompanied one of the boys to the doctor because no one could do it.”
These private initiatives contribute financially to the support of asylum seekers, mitigating the dilemma of their unclear legal status. The Dutch government has continues to ignore the issue: in 2015, the Rutte government almost collapsed over the question of granting basic human rights to the “uitgeprocedeer” (undocumented) the so called “bbb” (bad, bad en brood) policy. When a green light came, though, the administration of Amsterdam chose a strict enforcement: two years ago decided to offer undocumented migrants temporary-overcrowded dormitories, for the nights only, without chance of privacy. “Vluchtmaat is the first place where we know we can stay longer,” says one of the Eritrean refugees. At the Vluchtmaat, it seems, they finally found a moment of peace and conviviality where they can get involved in activities and work on their individual case. The asylum seekers of We are Here are also busy setting a media platform made by refugees that will be part of a European network. The aim is to keep attention on migrants issues.
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Photo: Jan Theun van Rees