Refugees resident in AZC Maastricht on hunger strike: ''We are desperate''

Since Tuesday this week, 6 refugees resident at the AZC (asylum seekers' centre) in Maastricht have been on hunger strike. They want to draw attention to the long Immigratie- en Naturalisatiedienst – IND waiting times. According to IND policy, asylum seekers must be informed within 15 months whether they will receive a verblijfsvergunning (residence permit), but some refugees in Maastricht have been waiting longer.

One of the refugees on hunger strike is a man from Syria. 16 months ago, he fled to the Netherlands to escape violence in his home country. Since then, he has been waiting for his asylum application to be processed. ''I am a positive person, but I get desperate from waiting. The COA (Central Agency for Asylum Seekers), responsible for the housing of asylum seekers) does its job well, but they are dependent on the IND. This is very frustrating. We are not allowed to work, have no money to play sports and we are also not allowed to go to school to learn the Dutch language because we do not have a residence permit.''

Refugee Project Maastricht

No capacity
An IND spokesperson says that there is currently no capacity for the volume of applications coming in, which causes waiting times to increase. According to the IND, the basic principle is that asylum applications are processed in order of entry into the Netherlands, therefore the hunger strike is no reason to give people priority in the procedure. It is reported that IND staff will, however, visit the AZC in Maastricht to explain the process and give people the opportunity to ask questions.

Daily doctor visits
According to Jeanny L'homme, spokesperson for the COA in Limburg, the hunger strike is going peacefully so far. ''We are keeping a close eye on the well-being of the refugees, they go to the doctor daily. It is difficult to estimate how this will continue, but we are closely monitoring the situation.'' For the refugees, the strike is becoming more difficult by the day. ''Many of us have stomach pains and can only get out of bed to go to the doctor. I hope the IND realises that we just want to be heard.''