"When I protest in the Netherlands, I feel safe."
Share this article
The Syrian Mazen fled to the Netherlands and demonstrated in the Netherlands against poor conditions in asylum reception centre. "At first nothing happened, but now COA has arranged mobile kitchens for us," he said
Bad food in the reception centre
At his fifth reception centre in Zuidbroek, Mazen revolted for the first time. Together with other residents in the communal Whatsapp group, they protested about the poor food. "The food was dirty or had sometimes even gone out of date. COA said they could not improve it because Zuidbroek is a temporary reception centre and there are few facilities. We agreed to stop eating the food until COA improved it."
This didn't help right away, so the residents thought of something else. "The food we receive is prepared in the kitchens of the hotel next to the reception centre. We didn't understand why the hotel guests got normal food and we didn't. Then a lot of residents gave the hotel a bad review on Google Maps. The hotel owner got angry at COA for what we had done. This had an immediate effect."
COA was now willing to talk to the residents of the reception centre. "They ended up arranging mobile kitchens for us. This way we can prepare our own meals that we like to eat. The fact that it is a temporary reception centre is no excuse. You have to accommodate people decently and listen to their needs."
"I am not at all used to protesting in this way. If you protest in Syria, you are arrest by the police and thrown in jail. If you protest here, on the contrary, the police stand around you, with their backs to you, to protect you from bystanders. I had never experienced this before. Protesting in the Netherlands feels safe and free."
Even when he is no longer a refugee and no longer in the reception centre, Mazen plans to continue protesting. "Not for myself, but for others who are struggling. Protesting is important for equality and solidarity – to stand up for each other and support each other."
Peaceful and together
How do you organise a good protest? According to Mazen, it's important to do it peacefully, and to gather a large group of people around you via WhatsApp, for example. "We don't want to destroy anything, just make our voices heard and get our justice. In Zwolle, we demonstrated with a group of refugees against the long waiting times at the IND. That it takes a long time is one thing, but the fact that you don't even hear when you will have an interview is inhumane. That's why we took to the streets."
"We also announced the protest to the municipality and to the media. This way, the municipality can even help you, and the media came by and wrote a piece about our protest in the newspapers. That way, all of the Netherlands can read what is happening to us. Hopefully that will have an effect on politics."