In recent weeks, Egyptian media have for the second time in a period of only a few months created some rumors about Dutch government policies regarding asylum for Copts. About two months ago, Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) published an article stating that the Netherlands would welcome any Copts applying for asylum in Holland. The report was completely baseless and false. It is true that a Dutch Member of Parliament, namely Joel Voordewind (member of the ChristianUnion, a small party currently holding five seats in the 150-seat parliament), asked the minister to review his policies with respect to Coptic asylum seekers. The minister replied that the current policy is sufficient, and would not be changed.
The Al-Masry Al-Youm article created quite a stir online, and the Netherlands Embassy in Cairo was flooded with requests for asylum. Even the academic Netherlands-Flemish Institute in Cairo was contacted numerous times a day for more information about government policies. Because of this, the embassy came out with a statement (July 16, 2012), saying that nothing had changed:
“Every request for asylum by Egyptian Christians will be assessed on its own merits as is the case for any asylum seeker in the Netherlands. It remains up to each Egyptian Christian individually to demonstrate that he/she is in need of international protection. This has always been the Dutch asylum policy towards Egyptian Christians. Nothing has changed in this respect.”
When I was in Dahab for a short vacation, last week, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm Al-Sabi’a (The Seventh Day) published a similar story (September 5, 2012) as the AMAY article, but this time an official letter from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs to a certain Mr. Ebid was included. The letter should provide evidence for the assumption that Dutch immigration policy regarding Copts has changed and that it’s now “granting Copts asylum”, as the title reads. In the letter, dated August 28, 2012, the ministry replies to an email sent by Mr. Ebid.
According to Mr. Ebid, the embassy statement of July 16 is not in line with a letter from the Dutch Minister of Immigration, Integration and Asylum, Gerd Leers, sent to Dutch Parliament on July 11, 2012. This letter was the only substantiation for the AMAY article. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs admits that the clarification published by the embassy on July 16 does not mention the fact that the government’s policy was updated on one point: Egyptian Copts do not have to request the Egyptian government for protection before applying for asylum in the Netherlands. This is just a minor change, and it certainly does not mean that asylum will be granted to any Copt requesting asylum.
To avoid any misunderstandings and to pre-empt a flood of requests, the embassy published a second statement on September 9, 2012, again denying the reports. It states the following:
“Every request for asylum by Egyptian Christians will be assessed on its own merit as is the case for any asylum seeker in the Netherlands. It remains up to each Egyptian Christian individually to demonstrate that he/she is in need of international protection. This has always been the Dutch asylum policy for all asylum seekers including Egyptian Christians.”
About the change in policy it states:
“The change in the procedure as it applies to Egyptian Christians was decided upon on July 11, 2012 by the Netherlands Minister of Immigration, Asylum and Integration and entails the following: in case an individual Egyptian Christian asylum seeker can make a plausible case that there is a real risk of a breach of article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms or that he/she is persecuted as described in the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention, he/she does not need to demonstrate that he/she asked the Egyptian authorities for protection.”
Unfortunately, this statement did not reach every Egyptian somehow interested in the matter. As I wrote above, all this happened when I was in Dahab enjoying the really nice weather and the beach. When I arrived back in Cairo on Friday night, I took a taxi from Tahrir square to my apartment in Doqqi. The cab driver asked the usual questions, and by the time we were close to my destination, he asked me where I was from. I said: “Hulanda”, and before I could tell him that I wanted to get out because I had reached my destination, he started to get angry with me, and said “Hulanda mish mazboot” (Egyptian for “Holland isn’t good”). He didn’t want to let me get out of the car, and kept on driving. According to him, the Netherlands were welcoming Copts in their country, and that’s why he was mad at me. I’m not sure why he didn’t like the idea that a lot of Copts want to leave Egypt, because I assume he doesn’t want them to stay either. After a few minutes, he stopped the car and let me out while saying “Welcome to Hulanda”. At least he took his revenge…