BY AZAR MOSHAVER / AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
My name is Azar Moshaver and I am the chair of Amnesty International department at The Hague. I am born in Iran, and I am living as an invited political refugee in Nederlands.
Sometimes I feel desperate. If I read the newspaper or watch the news and see all these heartbreaking stories about refugees and hear our politicians debate about ways to stop them from getting here, this problem seems too big to handle. At these moments, there seems to be no solution. But that is not true. There are a few, relatively simple things Europe can do for refugees. It will change their lives forever.
Amnesty calls on the European and Dutch governments to send more aid to the so-called ‘region’, where by far the most refugees are staying. And we ask them to offer refugees legal, safe ways to enter our continent, for example by handing out humanitarian visa or by reuniting families. But I want to talk to you today about perhaps the most simple of all of these measures. It will immediately help the most vulnerable amongst the refugees. It is called resettlement, or ‘hervestiging’ as we call it in Dutch.
To clarify the effect resettlement has, let me tell you the story of this Syrian guy Shevan and his boyfriend Sherow. When the protests in Damascus started, they were amongst the first ones to go to the streets. Hopeful for a better future, every Friday they demonstrated for democratic reforms.
But soon things turned ugly. Peaceful protests were met with violence. First Sherow got arrested, and then his boyfriend Shevan was put in jail. They were tortured and raped for months before they were finally set free. In the meantime, Syria had become a war zone. Bombings and new arrests threatened their lives. Their dream for a free Syria had turned into a nightmare.
Shevan and Sherow understood they had to flee if they wanted to survive. After a horrible and terrifying bus ride, they arrived in Lebanon. SAFE, they believed. But it soon turned out that in Lebanon they were not safe at all. Their opposition to the Syrian President Assad and their activism for gay rights put them in danger there. And in Lebanon, Sherow could not get the medical treatment for the ten teeth that were knocked out of his mouth in jail.
Shevan and Sherow felt desperate. Far away from friends and family, they still had to fear for their lives. But then the UNHCR stepped in. The organization saw their desperate situation and selected them for resettlement. This means the UNHCR asked governments to invite Shevan and Sherow to come and live in their country. The Dutch government responded. Our authorities sent them passports and visa and bought them a plane ticket. On 9 December 2013, the two young men flew towards a safe future in the Netherlands. As easy as that. No need to pay large sums of money to dodgy smugglers or to climb on shaky, barely seaworthy boats. They just checked in at the airport, handed over their documents the Dutch government had given them, and landed at Schiphol airport a few hours later. This simple act of Dutch humanity changed their lives.
Thanks to resettlement, Shevan and Sherow are living in Utrecht now. They are safe. Sherow got the medical treatment he needed and Shevan is advocating the rights of gay people and refugees more actively than ever.
There are many more people like Shevan and Sherow, who are in urgent need of such a happy ending. Vulnerable refugees who are not safe in the region because there they cannot get the medical treatment they require. Not safe because they are orphans living under harsh conditions. Not safe because they still face significant risks of violence or abuse because of their background, sexual orientation or beliefs. More than 1 million vulnerable refugees are in urgent need of resettlement. For years now, the Netherlands invites 500 of them over each year. Although the number of desperate refugees has risen drastically, the Dutch government still sticks to that 500. Amnesty thinks it should significantly raise that number. We are campaigning for more settlements. We started a petition for that purpose. I hope you will support us.
Spoken at the Human Rights 4 Refugees manifestation in front of the Peace Palace in The Hague at May 14, 2016 .
Please sign our online petition.