INTERVIEW IN NEWSPAPER THE NRC
“Interview with Nessar: ‘l want out of here, if worse comes to worst in a coffin’
A group of hunger strikers protests an inhumane detention regime.
What do you say to a man who is crying from his pain because he hasn’t drunk or eaten in days? Please stop, now? Or: Keep going!
Sayam Uddin Nessar (1970) from Afghanistan hasn’t drunk anything since Tuesday and was already on hunger strike since Monday. During the visiting hour on Saturday he lets people read a letter he has written. It says: ‘Under no circumstances do l want to be admitted to a hospital. I also refuse any artificial feeding, l do not agree to receive fluids via an IV, l do not agree to receive any medically necessary drugs.’
‘Either l’m released, or l’m leaving the detention center, in Rotterdam, in a coffin’ he says with a dry mouth. Every five minutes he reaches for his side, his kidneys protest. That was Saturday afternoon. Yesterday morning he called to say he would be taken to the hospital that day.
More than a week ago Nessar stepped up to lead a group of hungerstrikers in the detention center.
Last Thursday he was taken out of that group by eight guards. He was put into a cell on his own in a section that is otherwise empty. Once every 24 hours he was allowed out of his cell, to air-out, alone, in a cage. Since he has been moved many hunger strikers have started eating again. It is unclear how many people are still striking.
With the transfer of Nessar the management of the prison has probably tried to break the strike. In the detention center in Schiphol, where there is also a hunger strike, people have been put in isolation cells to pressure them to eat again. The management in Rotterdam has an agreement with the association of dutch asylum lawyers (VAJN), since last week, that the strikers would not be put in isolation cells. So Nessar was not put in an isolation cell but he was still isolated.
Alone Sayam Uddin Nessar still continues his strike. In an ice cold cell; according to the guards the air conditioning cannot be turned off. In this way Nessar protests the circumstances in which the detainees have to live: locked up in little cells like serious criminals. There are few activities and the food for the whole day is delivered, in a cardboard box, once every 24 hours. This includes one microwave meal for the evening.
The reason people are detained varies. Some are asylum seekers that have been through the procedures, to be nationalized, and have been rejected but they cannot be deported because their country of origin will not allow them to enter the country. Others have never asked for asylum but have stayed in the Netherlands illegally. In the detention center in Schiphol there are also those who’ve just arrived. It still has to be seen whether they can apply for a permit to stay. Still others are still going through the proceedings to be granted asylum or gain the dutch nationality.
Nessar was one of the people in this last group. He fled to the Netherlands with a large part of his family in 1993 after his father had been murdered. His mother, three brothers, two sisters, uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces are in the Netherlands. They all gave up the Afghani nationality and got a residence permit. At the time Nessar refused to do this because he wanted to become politically active in Afghanistan. He wanted to do it as an Afghan not as a Dutchman. At the time he was in the Netherlands legally, he had a temporary permit to stay. A dutch passport didn’t seem necessary.
Later it did become necessary, at this time he was working in Germany. The law changed and his permit had to be extended or be changed into one with a permanent status. The immigration- and naturalization service (IND) send a few letters to an address where he hadn’t lived in years, he says. His post address in Lelystad, where his family lives, was unknown by the IND.
When he returned to the Netherlands he had been registered as an illegal alien. First he thought this was a clerical error. Then he was arrested. He has been detained since the 19th of February.
Nessar is an exception in the detention center. He has been in the Netherlands for twenty years, speaks dutch without an accent and knows his rights and obligations. He writes letters to the management where he argues for changes to the strict regime. He enters discussions and asks for arguments why it has to be this way.
Besides this, he is not without means. In Lelystad he has his own house and is fellow-owner of a snooker center. Not that money is much use in detention, but Nessar can make phone calls. Most inmates can’t. All they have is the ten euro’s they get every week. This is the budget for toiletry, cigarettes and a snack. All of which can be bought in the ‘store’ in the detention center. Any money left over can be used to make calls. Usually there is too little money left. Even worse, most detainees do not even have anyone to call.
Nessars situation is different, He has asked his brothers to wire him 2000 euro’s of his own money to his jail account. He has used this money to call many, many people. This is how the outside world knows of his’ and others’ hunger- and thirst strikes.
On Saturday Nessar received his visitors in isolation from the other detainees. For him there was a separate room, with two guards. He likes the distraction of a conversation but he’s already severely weakened. He gets daily visits from a doctor who has found very low blood pressure and kidneys that are having a very though time of it.
His mother doesn’t know her son isn’t eating and drinking, he says. He is afraid to tell her. “She has already had two heart attacks, l don’t want to put her through that again.” He does call her daily and Saturday morning she could tell by his voice that something was wrong. What’s going on, she kept asking. When are they going to release you?
Nobody can be forced to eat.
Last week 111 ‘illegals’ started a hunger strike in the detention center in Rotterdam. According to the ministry of justice and security there are now fourteen left. Three of them also refuse to drink.
Hunger- and thirst strikers can’t be forced to eat or drink in the Netherlands. This would infringe the right to autonomy and self-determination, according to Anton van Kalmthout, professor of refugee/migration law. A spokesperson of the ministry says if people lose consciousness, it will be handled on a case-by-case basis to see if forced feeding will be administered. ‘Right now this is not the case’.
Strikers can be moved to a hospital against their will.
Depending on their health hunger strikers can survive up to three months, people who also refuse to drink only up to twelve days.”