They don’t have valid papers and often lead solitary lives – illegal aliens. The government wants to make it a criminal offence to live in the Netherlands without a residence permit. But who are these people? Part 1 of a series about illegal aliens in the Netherlands: Sain from Inner Mongolia (China).
“Has anyone been making inquiries about me?” 33-year-old Sain asks her Dutch contact Vincent. She’s nervous, because questions have been asked about her in the past. Sain thinks the Chinese secret service may have her under surveillance. For now, Vincent manages to calm her worries.
Illegal aliens in the Netherlands
This is part one of a four-part series about people who have sought refuge in the Netherlands and are living here without a residence permit.
Chinese secret service
The weeks in the Netherlands creep by for Sain. She shares a home with a number of others. There’s little privacy. A Dutch charity provides them with food. Sain often goes to the library to read or look something up on the internet.
“I don’t feel safe. I’m scared of the Dutch police who could pick me up, and of the Chinese secret service. I think they’re keeping watch on me, but I’m carrying on working for human rights in Inner Mongolia. Informing people about the situation there, that’s still my aim!”
Inner Mongolia is one of China’s autonomous regions. Nowadays, 80 percent of its population is Han Chinese. The latest figures show ethnic Mongolians account for only 17 percent of the people in the region.
Sain’s family run a stud farm. Her ancestors were nomads who lived on the steppes. The Chinese authorities forced the Mongolian people to give up their traditional way of life and set up farms. The change led to the steppes becoming a desert.
Chinese rule in Inner Mongolia is authoritarian, with Mandarin the only language allowed in schools. Sain, whose mother tongue is Mongolian, found it difficult to compete with Mandarin-speaking students.
“We weren’t allowed to learn about our own history,” she complains. “I fought for my language and culture. I talked to students at university about the history of Inner Mongolia, about their identity. The Chinese viewed me as a danger to the state.”
She was kept under surveillance by the Chinese authorities because of her human rights activities. This was the reason she fled to the Netherlands in 2008. She requested asylum, was granted temporary residency and lived for a number of years in a government-run centre. She has never been given permanent residency.
“The Immigration and Naturalisation Department say I lied. I couldn’t give the name of a lake and a mountain in my place of birth. I was able to give other important details. I gave a perfect description of where I was born, but that wasn’t enough. They kept going on about that one mistake.”
Sain wants to stay in the Netherlands come what may. Her application for Dutch nationality is ongoing. If she fails, she will try to go to the European Court in Strasbourg.