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- Charles Spurgeon

"Not all those who wander are lost."

23 februari 2010

Being illegal is easy in the Netherlands

Illegal aliens like Brazilian Fernando Alves Pimentel earn a fair sum in the Netherlands. Now it is time for him to go home.

By Sander Heijne in Amsterdam

"I have had a good time here. I managed to stay out of police hands. I have worked, made money and had fun. But it's enough. I want to go back home," said Fernando Alves Pimentel one day before leaving the Netherlands. After two-and-a-half years in Amsterdam, Alves reported himself to the International Organization for Migration (IOM). In the Netherlands, this NGO helps illegal aliens return to their home countries by paying for their ticket if they can't afford one.

Alves had stuffed two suitcases until they weighed 23 kilos each. He would bring home about 2,500 euros worth of goods purchased in the Netherlands: a computer, a camcorder, clothes. He barely had any cash on him; all his money had been safely wired to a Brazilian bank account. "What I made here will last about ten years," the 28-year-old said.

Alves' story is just one amongst the tens of thousands of similar ones lived by immigrants living and working in the Netherlands without a permit. Most live here for a couple of years to make money for the families they have left behind or to build a good life in their country of origin. Despite Dutch and European efforts to root out illegal aliens, it is relatively simple to live underground.

Tourist visa

First of all, it is easy for Brazilians to enter the European Union, said Alves. "I flew to Paris on a tourist visa. I had a friend in the Netherlands and she told me it was easy to make money here, so I travelled on to Amsterdam." After reaching the Netherlands he overstayed his visa. He has remained here illegally ever since.

"I did fear being caught and deported in the beginning. I had borrowed money on the black market in Brazil to pay for the ticket. If I had been deported before I had paid off my debt, I would have had a problem. If you can't pay, they will kill you," Alves said.

Once an illegal immigrant is deported from the EU it is hard to get back in, a spokesperson for the Dutch justice ministry explained. A deportee is registered in the Schengen Information System database which can be consulted before issuing a tourist visa. An EU 'return directive' to be implemented in December 2010, will make it easier to deport and ban people from the European Union entirely. Unknown number of illegal aliens
The exact number of illegal aliens living in the Netherlands is unknown. The justice department's research institute WODC last published estimates over 2005-2006. At the time it thought there were between 74,000 and 184,000 illegal aliens in the Netherlands.

Under Dutch law, police officers can ask aliens who they suspect may be here illegally for identification. Alves: "I know that if I am ever stopped for anything, I will be on the next flight to Brazil. That's why I make sure the lights on my bike work and I never run a red light."

Fines for employers

Alves doesn't speak Dutch and his English is very poor, yet he had no trouble finding work in the Netherlands. "The friend who lived here knew another Brazilian girl who was about to return. She had a cleaning job for three hours a week which I could buy from her for 120 euros." And so Alves landed his first, 10 euro per hour, job in Amsterdam.

As he got to know more Brazilians, more jobs came his way. He painted, cleaned, washed dishes in restaurants, did odd jobs at a field hockey club. "There is a whole network of Brazilians in the city who help each other finds jobs," Alves said.

While illegal aliens risk being deported, the employees who hire them are also in violation of the law. Businesses who have illegal employees risk being fined up to 8,000 euros. People who privately hire them as cleaners or painters have to pay 4,000 euros if they are caught.

"The risk of getting caught is slim," explained one Amsterdam restaurant-owner who asked not to be named citing fear of the authorities. "The labour costs are low and illegal aliens work hard." He said he occasionally had illegal aliens working in his kitchen. "Right now, I am looking for a new dishwasher. I will hire anyone who makes a reliable impression and is willing to work hard for little pay. That can be a either a student or an illegal alien."

In his restaurant, the illegal aliens are not treated differently, he said. In fact their net pay is a bit higher than that of legal residents. "Other dishwashers make minimum wage, but because of all the taxes they cost me more," the restaurant owner explained. He is not the only one willing to employ illegal aliens. "Think about all those who have a Ghanaian or Brazilian cleaning lady. They are all here illegaly," he said.

Society within a society

The people who hired him were pretty much the only Dutch people Alves got to know. "I had a Dutch girlfriend for about a year and my landlord is Dutch," Alves said. But he mostly stuck with fellow Brazilians, practically all of whom were here illegally. They have created their own society within society, according to Alves. But despite this isolation, they find their way to useful services. "All Brazilians know they can get home for free through the IOM and everyone I know travels that way," Alves said. Meanwhile the Brazilian consulate in Rotterdam, helps all Brazillian citizens, legal or illegal." IOM
The International Organization for Migration, sponsored by the Dutch justice ministry, paid the return trip for 2,165 aliens in the Netherlands between January 1 and October 31 this year. The largest group returned to Iraq (629) and 263 people travelled to Brazil.

"Legally we can't demand people who turn to us to prove they can't pay for their own ticket. They only way to check this is to ask them, which obviously is not an airtight system," a spokesperson for IOM explained.

By the time this interview is published Alves will have safely returned to Brazil and taken up his job respraying cars. The money he earned in the Netherlands will allow him to refurbish his mother's house and buy his own car.

He cherishes happy memories of the Netherlands, but will not recommend any of his friends to go there. For one, the Brazilian economy is in better shape than it was when he left. The other reason is the insecurity that comes with staying here illegally. "Fortunately I had a good friend in the Netherlands - a fellow illegal Brazilian - who would have called my family if anything were to happen to me. The worst thing that can happen to an illegal alien is to die without your family ever hearing about it," Alves said


I would not take the risk to get caught and be put in a Detention Centre!

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