Categorie archief: Thomas Blogs

It’s neoliberalism, stupid (2017)

Oliffe Richmond: Striding man II (1960-1961), Museum Kröller-Müller

Het huidige migratiebeleid is een ramp. Daarom is het niet gek dat de afgelopen tijd van een aantal kanten is gepleit voor vrije migratie. Maar het is een misvatting te denken dat er gekozen moet worden tussen óf het huidige beleid grosso modo voort te zetten, óf het migratiebeleid op neoliberale grondslag te vestigen (“vrije” migratie). Het neoliberalisme is onderdeel van het probleem, niet van de oplossing.

Het volledige essay werd gepubliceerd in de Groene Amsterdammer van 13 april 2017.

De vrijheid van menigsuiting geldt ook voor omstreden meningen (2017)

Irfan Önürmen: Police Baton (Diptych), 2001 (Istanbul Modern)

Op 12 februari 2009 werd Geert Wilders de toegang tot het Verenigd Koninkrijk ontzegd toen hij de film Fitna wilde vertonen in een gebouw van het Britse Parlement. De weigering was ingegeven door de verwachting dat de bijeenkomst aanleiding zou zijn voor verstoren van de openbare rust en de openbrae orde – lees: de Britse overheid vreesde relletjes. Wilders vocht deze toegangsweigering aan bij de Britse vreemdelingenrechter. Deze rechter stelde vast dat Wilders zijn opvattingen op zodanige wijze uit dat “ieder redelijk denkend mens deze als schofferend voor de Islamitsiche godsdienst en zijn grondlegger zou beschouwen.” Desondanks won Wilders de zaak met vlag en wimpel. In een uitspraak van 17 oktober 2009 stelde de rechter vast dat de vrijheid van meningsuiting nu juist van belang is als het gaat om meningen die controversieel zijn en commotie veroorzaken. Deze uitspraak was voorspelbaar, en volkomen terecht. Als mensen willen demonstreren tegen Geert Wilders of Zwarte Piet hebben ze daar het volste recht toe. En als de demonstranten dreigen de orde te verstoren, dan worden niet Geert of Piet verboden, maar zorgt de politie dat de tegendemonstratie niet uit de hand loopt.

Afgelopen zaterdag heeft de Nederlandse regering de landingsrechen van het vliegtuig van de Turkse minister Cavusoglu ingetrokken. Later op die dag heeft burgemeester Aboutaleb een noodverordening afgekondigd om te voorkomen dat minister Kaya het woord kon voeren in het Turkse consulaat, en om te voorkomen dat publiek het consulaat kon bereiken. Vervolgens is Kaya als ongewenst vreemdeling uitgezet. Deze ongebruikelijke maatregelen zijn genomen omdat de Nederlandse overheid het niet goed vond dat zij Turkse Nederlanders kwamen oproepen om bij het referendum op 16 april te stemmen voor een presidentieel systeem, waarbij de huidige president Erdogan een positie zou krijgen die veel lijkt op die van zijn Franse of Amerikaanse collega. Het uiten van die mening levert in Nederland geen strafbaar feit op. De Nederlandse reactie is dan ook uitsluitend ingegeven door de inhoud van de meningen die de Turkse ministers hier wilden komen verwoorden.

Het gaat daarbij om meningen die wat mij betreft tegesproken moeten worden. In Turkije hebben rechtsstatelijke waarborgen nooit erg veel om het lijf gehad, maar na de staatsgreep van juli vorig jaar zijn ze de nek omgedraaid. Dan ook nog eens meer macht leggen bij de president die daar leiding aan geeft is een slecht idee. Maar het is een idee dat wel geuit mag worden. Pim Fortuyn haalde een aan Voltaire toegeschreven citaat aan: “Ik kan uw mening nog zo abject vinden, maar ik zal uw recht verdedigen om die te uiten.” Als het uiten van een mening dreigt te leiden tot het verstoren van de openbare orde is de passende reactie niet het beëindigen van de meningsuiting, maar van de ordeverstoring – maar zonder de tegendemonstratie onmogelijk te maken.

De Turkse regering wordt voor open doel gezet. Natuurlijk loopt die naar de rechter met een beroep op de mensenrechten, en natuurlijk geeft de rechter Turkije uiteindelijk gelijk. Gedachten zijn vrij. Sinds de Turkije-deal durfde Nederland al nauwelijks de staat van de mensenrechten in Turkije aan de orde te stellen. Premier Rutte noemde rapporten van Amnesty International “geruchten” – een tekst figuren als Poetin en Erdoğan waardig. Maar het hele Nederlandse politieke spectrum is het er nu, zonder ook maar één uitzondering, over eens dat de vrijheid van meningsuiting niet geldt voor de voorstanders van de Turkse grondwetswijziging. Mocht Nederland het ooit weer eens kunnen opbrengen om kritiek te hebben op de mensenrechten in Turkije, dan zal die met hoongelach worden begroet. En het pijnlijke is dat de Turkse regering daar dan een beetje gelijk in heeft.

NRC-Handelsblad 13 maart 2017

Got the picture? (2017)

On 5 August 2016, the UN News Centre published a picture captioned UN team in Jordan uses cranes to hoist aid to Syrian refugees at sealed border. The picture is taken from Jordanian territory. The low mud wall behind the trucks marks the Syrian border. At the time, Amnesty International reported that more than 75,000 Syrian refugees were living in the desert on the Syrian side. The text accompanying the picture reports that “life-saving food and other supplies from the United Nations” are being “hoisted by crane and monitored by drones across the closed frontier” in what is called “a unique operation.” The World Food Programme delivered food packages, the International Organization for Migration contributed bread, and the UN’s children fund UNICEF hygiene kits. This picture, as well as the perky accompanying press release, captures the outcome of international, and in particular of European policies vis-à-vis the Syrian refugee issue. In 2011, Syria had 23 million inhabitants. At present, some 11 million of them have been uprooted; 6.5 million of them are internally displaced (IDP’s, including the 75,000 people at the Jordanian border), and 4.9 million have sought refuge outside Syria.

For the full blogpost see Forced Migration Forum, February 7, 2017

A less disastrous policy on the war in Yemen (2016)

From: Constant: 8 x la guerre (1951)

Since 2015 an armed conflict takes place in Yemen. One of the warring parties is supported by an international coalition headed by Saudi Arabia, which is provided with arms by the US and European states. Violations of international humanitarian law (including bombing hospitals) have become routine. Out of a 24 million population, 14 million people are now reliant on food aid, and 3 million people are internally displaced. Over 180.000 people have fled the country. The number of refugees that has left the country is low because Yemen is surrounded by other conflict zones (Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan) and by Saudi Arabia, which blocks the escape routes in the desert by military means. Just like with other refugee situations, the UN reports that only half of the funds needed for supporting displaced persons and refugees is raised by the international community.

There are hardly Yemenite refugees who succeed in reaching Europe – over the past five years 3.845 people from Yemen applied for asylum in the entire European Union, 150 of which in the Netherlands. This is a very limited group of people. When the armed conflict in Yemen broke out in 2015, the Dutch state secretary of justice decided to suspend decision making in Yemenite asylum cases, by declaring a so-called moratorium. European and Dutch law allows for this so as to enable the authorities to gather information and formulate policy in situations which are volatile and changing – as was the case in Yemen in 2015.

The Dutch moratorium for Yemenite asylum cases expired in August 2016. According to law, the authorities should now resume taking decisions in Yemenite asylum cases. However, in October the state secretary for justice reported to parliament that he is working on new policy. The idea of the moratorium is that the authorities will use the period of the moratorium to formulate policy. Instead, the moratorium has been used to wait with making new policy until after it has expired.

If the state secretary of justice would have taken decisions in Yemenite asylum cases, he would have granted asylum. The situation in Yemen leaves no other options. During a moratorium, asylum seekers have to remain in asylum reception centres. These are fit for sheltering people for a few months. Not for the 18 to 24 months that Yemenite asylum seekers have been forced to remain there, while the inaction of the Dutch authorities forced them to do nothing but wait.

This makes Yemen a miniature of failing European policies:
1. By supporting and arming Saudi Arabia, the conflict is made worse;
2. The resulting humanitarian emergency is addressed only partly by insufficient funding;
3. And even the few refugees who succeeded in reaching Europe are left in a dead-end situation for an indefinite period.

Because this is a relatively small problem, Yemen could serve as a try-out for a less disastrous policy on three fronts. The Dutch authorities themselves can grant asylum to Yemenite refugees, for the sound reason that they qualify for it. Together with other European countries, the funds could be collected for supporting internally displaced persons and refugees in the region. And by ending arms supplies to the warring parties Europe could stop making the war worse than it already is.

Dutch version published in Trouw, 21 November 2016

Fact Check: Did ‘Wir Schaffen Das’ Lead to Uncontrolled Mass Migration? (2016)

From: Constant: 8 x la guerre (1951)

From: Constant: 8 x la guerre (1951)

It is widely assumed that the German ‘decision to suspend Dublin and open the borders,’ epitomized by Angela Merkel’s ‘Wir schaffen das’, led to ‘uncontrolled mass migration’ in the summer and fall of 2015. This belief is not only held by media and politicians, but also by prominent academics like Ruud Koopmans. The empirical claim contained in this belief has two elements: one relating to the ‘suspension of Dublin’, and one relating to the ‘opening of the borders.’ Are these claims correct?

Read my blogpost on Border Criminologies.

Fact Check: Did the EU-Turkey Deal Bring Down the Number of Migrants and of Border Deaths? (2016)

From: Constant: 8 x la guerre (1951)

From: Constant: 8 x la guerre (1951)

On March 18th, 2016, the EU and Turkey agreed that all irregular migrants arriving on the Greek islands were to be returned to Turkey. It is generally believed that this agreement has led to a dramatic decrease of the number of irregular migrants, and hence of the number of border deaths. Exemplifying this idea is this quote from the second progress report of the European Commission on the implementation of the EU-Turkey Agreement: ‘The sharp decrease in the number of irregular migrants and asylum seekers crossing from Turkey to Greece is proof of the Statement’s effectiveness – and in particular, that the business model of smugglers can be broken. The clear message to migrants is that getting on a boat in Turkey, and endangering lives in the process, is not worth the risk given that there is a legal and safe pathway through resettlement.’ Are these claims correct?

See my blogpost on Border Criminologies

Advocating human rights as gorilla behaviour

media_xll_1212576Human rights are increasingly considered to be crucial for the legitimacy of European institutions. Since 1983, the Dutch Constitution opens with a chapter on fundamental rights, in the first place equality and non-discrimination. The 1998 Human Rights Act in the United Kingdom is another case in point. The European Union proclaimed its Charter on Fundamental Rights in 2000, and made it into binding law in 2009. These are formal phenomena, but they have effects in everyday life. People who want to make a point about Islam will easily refer to equal rights of women and LGBT people, which they are purported to lack and we are said to have. This happens in politics, at parties and in the pub.

Therefore, it is remarkable that human rights are being relativized more and more frequently as well. The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, last Friday had to explain why he had not publicly raised the issue of freedom of expression when a Dutch-Turkish journalist had been arrested in Turkey after critical tweets about Erdogan. He defended himself by stating that behaving like a gorilla is not going to get us anywhere. This kind of statement is not an isolated thing. Over the past few weeks, human rights organizations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights have published well researched reports about serious violations of the rights of Syrian refugees – from systematic refoulement to shooting them, including women and children. Prime minister Rutte and Dutch foreign secretary Koenders have systematically referred to these reports as “rumours”. They have made enquiries with the Turkish authorities, who have assured them that there is nothing whatsoever to worry about. There is “no reason at all to point a reproaching finger at Turkey.”

It might be objected that these statements are a bit awkward, but are related only to the refugee deal between Turkey and the EU. Because the Netherlands is President of the EU Council these months and the deal is very important, human rights have to be toned down. But this ignores that this is merely an escalation of a more long term process. Two years ago, Geert Wilders promised to make sure that there would be less Moroccans in the Netherlands. He now leads the polls, and faces criminal prosecution in court. When the Dutch legislation on family reunion was made stricter, there was wide support in Parliament for proposals which explicitly aim at reducing family reunion for people with a Turkish and Moroccan background. Why does Wilders face prosecution for something the Dutch legislator actually makes happen?

Human rights, like law in general, are always multi-interpretable. You can take them in different directions. The question, however, is whether they can be taken in different directions at the same time. That is what politicians of all shades are trying to do now, by turning up the volume on both points. They say ever more loudly how important human rights are. And they emphasize more and more that human rights are overdone – with the gorilla metaphor as a high point until now. The dissonance is increasing, and just as in music it will have to be resolved at one moment. Either Europe joins the likes of Putin and Erdogan, who find human rights silly nonsense. Or they join the ranks of people like Max van der Stoel, a former Dutch labour Party politician who, without ever raising his voice, unflinchingly advocated human rights.

Dutch version in NRC-Handelsblad 3 May 2016