Netherlands: Two deaths in immigration detention in 2 months

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Failure to provide adequate health in Dutch immigration detention has led to two deaths within the last two months. On the night of 2 to 3 February 3008, the Algerian Rachid Abdelsalam died on the immigration detention Boat Bibby Stockholm in Rotterdam of a heart failure. His heart irregularities were apparently treated with cough medicine and his fellow detainees claim that although they warned the guards of Rachid's deteriorating health, only two hours after he had died did the guards open his cell door. The Socialist Party (SP) in parliament, which was notified by the detainees themselves about the circumstances surrounding Rachid's death, has asked State Justice Secretary. Nebahat Albayrak (responsible for immigration), for clarification.

At the end of March, an Egyptian man, Ahmad Mahmud El Sabah, also died on a Rotterdam detention boat because of lack of adequate health care, according to his fellow detainees. Ahmad Mahmud suffered from diabetes and an infection of the liver. Detainees say he was only brought to hospital when he collapsed. A spokesperson of the Justice Ministry, however, claims that Ahmad Mahmud was brought to hospital earlier. Migrant rights' groups are now demanding an independent inquiry.

Both deaths were followed by "noise" demonstrations in front of the detention boats by action groups that organised a bus tour to several detention facilities. The two deaths follow the death of 11 migrants in a fire in Schiphol detention centre due to sub-standard fire protection in the containers. In response the Dutch state sent 24 year-old Libyan asylum seeker Ahmed Isa Al-Jabali, who was detained in the boat and suffered severe burns and post-traumatic stress, to three years imprisonment. He had freely admitted that he had accidentally dropped his cigarette whilst falling asleep, but was charged with deliberate arson and given responsibility for the deaths (see Statewatch News Online, August 2007:

Immigration detention, in particular on container ships in harbours, is condemned as inhumane by migrant organisations, church groups, and human and civil rights organisations all over Europe. The Jesuit Refugee Service Europe says that:

"Those persons who are looking for protection or for ways of trying to survive by undeclared work are literally locked up and guarded as if they were criminal prisoners, and very often their living conditions in detention are even worse than living conditions in criminal prisons."

The detention boats in Rotterdam are known to provide sub-standard health and other care, revealed by ex-detainees as well as a journalist who reported about abysmal treatment of detainees after having worked there as an undercover security guard. The boat "Reno" came into operation on 1 September 2004. "Bibby Stockholm" opened on 24 January 2005. Due to the building of three new detention facilities, a detention centre in Alphen aan den Rijn, another boat, "Bibby Kalmar", in Dordrecht, and new boats in Zaanstad, the Rotterdam detention boats will soon be closed. Both Belgium and the UK have expressed interest in buying the detention boats from the Netherlands.

Migrants locked up in detention centres continuously protest by way of hunger strikes and riots. On 13 February this year, Mohamed Boumedine, who used to share a cell with Rachid, started a hunger strike together with nine other detainees, of which eight were deported. Altogether, Mohammed has been detained for 32 months in what has become a common phenomenon in the Netherlands and elsewhere: migrants are detained, released and detained again if they cannot be deported. In Mohammed's case, no embassy is willing to provide him with travel documents (laissez faire).

Despite the severe critique against immigration detention and demands for its abolition, EU government are proposing to increase the detention period for undocumented migrant to 18 months.


Comprehensive information about immigration detention in the Netherlands (link)

Comprehensive information about immigration detention in Europe provided by the Jesuit Refugee Service (link)

Journalist Robert van de Griend from Vrij Nederland reports on the treatment of migrants in Bibby Stockholm (link)

Campaign against the EU Directive on immigration: (link)

Report on the demonstration of 10 February after Rachid's death (link)

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