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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 February, 2004, 17:04 GMT
Gloom falls on Dutch asylum seekers
Things are looking grim for Yusuf, a Somali asylum seeker, after the Dutch parliament voted this week to expel thousands of people like him.

The immediate threat for Yusuf is withdrawal of social security benefits, the next is possible detention in a closed camp.

Rebels on the streets of Mogadishu
Somalia came under the control of gun-toting warlords in the 1990s
Ultimately, he could be put on a plane and sent back to the country he fled 10 years ago, as inter-clan bloodletting spiralled out of control.

In the intervening decade he has graduated from university, married and had two children.

"What worries me most is that I might have to separate from my family," he told BBC News Online, speaking in fluent English.

The fact that parts of Somalia are still in a state of anarchy, and are unsafe for people of the Marehan tribe, to which Yusuf belongs, is another consideration.

If Yusuf was sent back to the capital, Mogadishu, he might not get out alive.

No documents

He was 22 years old when he first left his country for neighbouring Kenya, and paid a trafficker to arrange his flight to the Netherlands.

They are going to be turned out on to the street with their children
Immigration lawyer, Vincent Kuit
Despite the political meltdown in Somalia he was classified as an economic migrant.

He lost an appeal against this ruling in 1997 and would have been deported right then, but for the fact that Somalia had no recognised government and he had no legal travel documents.

The next year he married a Dutch citizen - a woman also originally from Somalia - but it took a three-year struggle against Dutch red tape to get the marriage officially registered.

By then Yusuf's first child was on the way.

Of the 26,000 asylum seekers likely to be affected by the new Dutch law - if it is approved by the upper house of parliament - anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand may be Somalis, says Amsterdam immigration lawyer Vincent Kuit.

He adds that many of them, like Yusuf, have been in the country for some time, and have families.

"For a few years they have been waiting to see what would happen, and the answer now is that they are going to be turned out on to the street, with their children as well," says Mr Kuit.

No control

Yusuf, in one sense, is lucky, because at least his wife has Dutch citizenship, and has a job.

I do not want to miss my boys for one day - but this could take three or four years, if it is possible at all
But he may not be allowed to stay at home, as he does now, to look after the children.

"According to the new policy he will be put in a closed camp - that's what our minister said in parliament," says Mr Kuit.

He adds that the Dutch Government has recently managed to get round the problem that there is no legally recognised Somali passport by issuing some Somali deportees with a document called a laissez passer.

This enables them to be flown to Dubai or Nairobi, where they have then been given further documents allowing them to be flown to Somalia.

"The Dutch government will not send people back to the south of Somalia because it is in war," he says.

"But they can go to the northern part because it is safe. The trouble is that the plane from Nairobi stops first at Mogadishu, which is in the south.

"The airports are in the hands of local warlords, and what happens to these people, no-one knows. There is no control mechanism."


Somali refugee in Kenya, 2002, after fighting between Ethiopian-backed Somali militia and a faction favorable to the transitional government of President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan
Somalia is still not a safe country for many of its people
Once back in Somalia, Yusuf would have to apply at the nearest Dutch embassy for a particular kind of visa that would give him the right to rejoin his family, and work in the Netherlands.

Since there is no Dutch embassy in Somalia, this would involve travelling back to Kenya.

For Yusuf, the prospect is a nightmare.

"I do not want to miss my boys for one day," he says. "But this could take three or four years, if it is possible at all.

"No-one has explained why I cannot apply for the visa here."

He adds: "I am pessimistic, because the Dutch government doesn't seem to look at the details of your case. Its policy seems to be to just to take a hard line in order to deter people from seeking asylum here in future."

The Dutch government insists that no-one at risk will be forced to leave.

Dutch MPs approve asylum exodus
17 Feb 04  |  Europe
Timeline: Somalia
29 Jan 04  |  Country profiles
Living the legacy of Pim Fortuyn
17 Feb 04  |  Europe

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