Science - February 2, 2006

Squatting for homeless refugees

‘It all went pretty smoothly,’ says squatter Lieneke Bakker amidst the signs of a transient existence in the flat on the Kolkakkerweg. The student is one of thirty squatters who took over an entire apartment building in broad daylight on Monday, 30 January. The fourteen apartments will not only be used by the squatters themselves, but will also provide living space for homeless refugees.

‘The whole apartment building was empty for more than a year, so we were well prepared. The municipality says the squatting is legal, the neighbourhood reacted positively and even the occasional police officer passing by seemed to think it was good,’ explains Lieneke in the cold hallway.
After being removed from a squat on the Poststraat, the students along with a number of other squatters started looking for new living quarters. ‘But this time we also wanted to do something for homeless refugees,’ says Lieneke.
‘Two families have already been put out on the street in Wageningen,’ Jeroen adds sympathetically. ‘By the looks of it, many more refugees will soon no longer be welcome in the refugee centres. These are refugees who have been denied a residence permit and who have no more rights here in the Netherlands. The current government does nothing for these people, and we want to show that they can be treated humanely.’
Will this effort make it much easier for the immigration service to find the refugees in Wageningen? The squatters don’t think so. Wageningen’s policy, unlike that of the national government, is to not actively remove these people.
According to council member for social affairs, Tineke Strik, however, the situation is a bit more complicated. ‘The mayor has indeed forbidden the police in the past from evicting refugees who have been denied a permit. But we have no say over what the national immigration service does. If they want to deport someone, they can.’
So far, there are no refugees living in the fourteen apartments. ‘There is no gas, water or electricity yet, so it’s difficult to live respectably,’ Lieneke says with a smile. ‘We are negotiating with the housing association to see whether they are willing to reconnect the building. We’ll see whether we can pay for the gas, water and electricity ourselves with the help of refugee organisations, but first we have to get a connection.’
So far, the housing association has refused to reconnect the building. Head of housing services Hans van Es: ‘I just told the squatters that we won’t remove them. But first we want to wait for broader negotiations with all of the parties involved. Considering the political character of Wageningen, we are certainly willing to make the building available until new construction starts, but not before very clear management agreements have been made.’
All things considered, sympathiser Remont thinks it’s a great idea. ‘Squatting is not my hobby, but this effort on behalf of the refugees is a great gesture. Yeah, I really just came to bring some flowers for Lieneke, to bring a bit of warmth into the cold building.’ / MV

Join discussion at wesp.wur.nl

Re:act