A Modern Slave Adventure Into The Netherlands 2: Prison

Mohammed Marzouq Alsharefee
11 min readApr 26, 2022

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Arrival

The police van went inside the prison and it was a real prison, not some refugees only closed camp but a real prison. Third to quarter of this prison was for refugees and the rest was for real prisoners. That was what one of the guards told us.

My wife kept trying to bring the mood up and kept telling me its ok, meanwhile I was speechless, as I was the one who brought this upon her. The guards were nice and they tried their best to make it a calm and fun experience as they saw the fear in our faces. They took our phones, laptops, money, IDs and most of our stuff and left us with only few clothes to take to our cell.

They gave us 2 cards, a prisoner card that “activate” the cell and has money inside it. At that time we didn’t get why they would give us a card with money inside it. The other card is a telephone card and can be used to make phone calls.

Our Cell

I was afraid they would put me and my wife in a different cell or different section but thankfully, they put me and my wife in one cell. The cell had 2 bunk beds, a small fridge, microwave, TV and a small bathroom. The cell door was thick, almost 2/3 of a foot and had two small windows on it. They allowed us to close the door of our cell if we didn’t want to get out but they need to check on us every 6 hours if I remember correctly. There was also one of those thick glass windows that gave the impression of unbreakable that had a view on the prison wall (incase we forgot we are in prison). The window can’t be opened, instead there is this metal net above the window which had a small metal inside it that can be opened electrically by a button. This way you can have fresh air coming in the room without being able to open the window.

Prison cell in Veenhuizen, the Netherlands. Photograph: Catrinus van der Veen/AFP/Getty Images. Source. The cell in the picture has a lot of similarities with our cell in Schiphol except for the window.

The electricity in the room can only be activated using the prisoners card, without the card nothing activate. Inside the cell there was also a telephone which can only make calls using the telephone cards.

The Food

When it came time for the food, it was actually good, to me and my wife at least, we liked this new Dutch food, and we actually received Halal food, which was a surprise to me. I wish expats of different religions would also be respected by the Kuwaiti police, especially in prison. But I doubt it.

What Else

There was even a prayer room in our section. There was also a library, a shared kitchen, a play ground that we were allowed to go into twice a day for one hour and even a video games corner with a Nintendo Wii.

There was even a device in our section which allowed us to order stuff with the money we had in the prisoners card. We didn’t use it, as we were told that it would take days for the stuff to arrive and we would probably have left by then.

Kuwait V.S Netherlands

In prison I started noticing the difference between Kuwait and the Netherlands. The prison employees were nice and you could see they liked their jobs, in fact most people seemed to enjoy their jobs, this was very different from Kuwait were most government employees looked desperate and out of life.

The details that went into our cell also indicated the Dutch dedication to their work. Everything was thought of, from the screws that can’t be opened unless special tools are used, to the unbreakable mirrors, to the full sensor bathroom/toilet, to the door handles, to the windows, to the design of the cell door which gives privacy to the inmates and protect guards if an inmate may try to harm them by putting 2 small windows on the door, one that allows the security guard to speak to the inmates inside and another one protected by a transparent plastic to allow the security guard to check the inmates place in the cell without being afraid for their own safety. To the magnetic bar next to the door where we had to put the spoons and knives after eating so that the guard knows their location by simply opening one of the small window on the door.

I remember there was an elderly Syrian woman who had a knee problem and couldn’t go down to the playground and one of the Dutch guards offered to carry her on his back, and when we started laughing, he said that this is his job, to take care of us (they later took her there by the elevator). This was so different than what I had imagined it to be. I was astonished by the difference between Kuwait and the Netherlands. I also remember there was this inmate who asked one of the guards why they worked in prison and the guard actually started mentioning how good his job is, and was trying to sell it to the inmate to apply if he ever become a Dutch citizen. I compared this to the rude treatment of the police officers in the Kuwaiti airport right before we left.

Complex Feelings

Photo by Andrik Langfield on Unsplash

As I lay on the bed in the cell thinking about our situation. We were happy. That at last we were able to get out of the oppression of Kuwait. I mean don’t get me wrong the first day in prison was scary and being imprisoned was in itself is bad but the generosity and niceness of the Dutch police in the airport and the guards in the prison just astonished me and kept me wondering. How? Why? Why are they nicer than us? Is it the education? Is it something they eat? And why people seems to enjoy their jobs? I mean a smiling government employee! That’s a rare thing in Kuwait. In Kuwait most government employees job is to make your life harder, and they can’t be blamed, imagine working in a job knowing that eventually someone younger with less or no experience would be your boss just because he knew or is a relative to a high government official, or from a certain family. Some of my Kuwaiti friends may disagree with me. Maybe its only us who were treated badly because we are from a Bedoon minority and we had racism on us and some of those employees felt they too needed to do their patriotic duty and push us to “reveal our true origins” and that’s why they had us go through hardship.

But in prison I felt extremely grateful and I wondered as to why the treatment was so different. I mean we were basically uninvited guests and yet they even cared for us to provide us with halal food, a praying place, treated us nicely, provided us with a lawyer, etc.

Starting Procedure

Here we go. Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash

After a few days in prison we were assigned a lawyer and our procedure started. In the first interview, they confirmed our identity and how did we came to the Netherlands. In The second interview we spoke about what we went through.

We were told that we will get a reply in few days. If God forbid we would get a negative answer, at least we still had our apartment and I still had my job back in Kuwait. True that I may lose it in few months or maybe immediately, but we could use this time to find a way to another country, to apply for asylum or immigration.

Huh! What did you just say?

One of the strange things (to me) that happened in the interview is that before the interview started both the translator and the interviewer informed us that we are allowed to make a complain against them if we think they are not doing a good job. At that stage, never in my life had someone told me that I can report them if I think they aren’t doing a good job. I remembered back in Kuwait how sometimes some of the rudest and laziest government employees would have a sign on the wall behind them that says “The insulting of an employee is a crime that is punishable by 2 months in prison or a 500 Kuwaiti Dinar fine or both. ”. They would use this sign as a threat, knowing that most people doesn’t know if and how they can file a complain against them.

“The punishment for insulting an employee is prison time from 3 to 6 months or a fine of 500 Kuwaiti Dinar from the penalty law 135 and 134”. Source. Papers like these were/are found in various government places in Kuwait.

Confused

Photo by Maksym Kaharlytskyi on Unsplash

We didn’t know much about the law regarding asylum and we thought we just had to prove the things that happened to the stateless (Bedoon) minority in Kuwait and prove that we are stateless ourselves. Apparently things doesn’t work that way for stateless people. Unlike in the Syrian, Yemeni, Iranians, Turkish and most known refugee cases, we stateless people have to mention the things that happened to us personally with proof. Talking about our situation and the general situation of the stateless people (Bedoon) in Kuwait doesn’t work. Using the reports of Human Rights groups of similar cases as us also doesn’t work. Your case must be personal and you need proofs. And getting a personal proof that a hospital refused to have us thanks to the government trying to blackmail us to sign documents that says we aren't stateless is very hard.

Among Us

While in prison, sometimes we who applied for asylum would group up and each person would speak about his situation and where he came from. There were Syrians, Palestinians, Kurdish, Yemenis trying to survive, Egyptians running away from their dictator president, etc.

Among us, there was this 19 years old boy. I asked him why is he here and from which country is he from. He said he is from Morocco. I asked “did you say something about the Moroccan king?” as there was another Moroccan with us, she was a journalist who applied for asylum because she said something about the Moroccan king in an article or something and was tortured because of it. But the boy replied with a no, he said he wasn’t running away from anything. I was puzzled. “Then why are you here?” I asked. He said “My friends are here and they told me to come. ”. I remember him laughing as he looked at my dropped jaw.

It didn’t make sense to me, as he would definitely get a rejection, but apparently he ripped/throwed any documents that he had with him. This way I guess the IND can’t send him anywhere as they don’t know/prove where he came from.

Strict Rules

With us, in the prison, there were an old Sikh couple who according to them, they were going to their son in UK and their travel plan had a layover in Schiphol and they didn’t make the transit visa. By the time we were there, they have probably spent more than 20 days in that prison if my memory serves me right.

Mohammed, The Escape Artist

While setting in our cell and staring at the electric wall few meters away from the prison window I have noticed that for some reason when it start’s raining the electric wall doesn’t electrify the birds that sit on it. Usually crows and other birds would be electrified if they touch the electric wires but when it’s rainy it doesn’t, and that put a plan in my head but then I remembered I forgot my tattoos at home and I am not Michael Scofield.

Prison Break TV series. Did you watch it? Don’t.

Freedom At Last!

We finished our second interview which took almost 7 hours and now we wait for the IND (Immigration and Naturalization Service) decision which we should receive in a the 14th day in prison. If I am not mistaken, in the 13th day in prison we were told that we are now free to go out. We were extremely happy of course, since we weren’t deported that meant maybe we got accepted and even if that wasn’t the case just by being out of prison was in itself happiness.

While we were being given our stuff back, they gave me my money back and I started counting it and noticed a 60 euro increase. There was more? There was more money! I looked at the guard and said “There is more money here! There is a mistake.” and the guard insured me there isn’t a mistake and that this extra money was actually our allowance which we didn’t buy anything with while we were in there. I stood there blinking while my brain processed this.

A mini bus came and took us with some other people who also applied for asylum. I remember it was a rainy day and all of us in the car kept wowing as we took a look at the Netherlands for the first time ever since we came to the Netherlands and I guess the driver felt awkward as it was an ordinary bad weather day according to the Dutch standard.

In the mini bus. Freedom at last.

Are we there yet?

We reached our first ever complex for refugee (AZC) in a city called Zutphen. A very beautiful city.

As we are taking our bags from the mini bus we meet an old Syrian man. He asks us “Where are you from?” and we replied “Kuwait, we are from Kuwait”, suddenly the old man started shouting “Why are you following us here? You are comfortable with your money and oil. Why are you following us here?”. At that moment I smiled and thought “Humiliated inside and hated for belonging to it outside.”. We explained to the old man about statelessness and Bedoon and that we are not Kuwaitis. That seemed to calm him down.

Me and the pineapple discussing our case in the refugee building (AZC).

At last

True, that going to prison was completely unnecessary but we were happy and extremely grateful to have a chance to escape the slavery and racism of Kuwait and were very convinced that we would get a positive reply as we have seen people who got it even so they had better circumstances than us, plus not receiving a reply until now made us think that we had already got a positive reply or surely will be getting one. Even if we didn’t get a positive reply, at least we still had a job and our apartment back in Kuwait. We could go back and try to immigrate or apply for asylum to another country.

Second day of living in the AZC.

The Future

Totally unaware that after 2 months our asylum would be rejected and at that time we would have lost the job I have back in Kuwait and our apartment. And to make things worse, my Kuwaiti security card also expired and I can’t renew it. Living in Kuwait as a stateless person without a valid security card is living in limbo. So now going back to Kuwait is no longer an option. The Netherlands is no longer plan A only, instead its now plan A, B and C.

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