Conflict & Justice

Netherlands Divided Over Angolan Teen Asylum Seeker Mauro Manuel

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18-year-old Angolan asylum seeker Mauro Manuel (Photo: BBC)

The case of an 18-year-old Angolan asylum seeker has proved tricky for the Dutch parliament, as politicians debate whether Mauro Manuel should be given the right to remain in the Netherlands.

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The teenager has become something of a celebrity here, appearing on chat shows and on the front pages of almost all the daily newspapers.

His case has captured the public imagination and is being used to highlight what some believe is a huge flaw in the Dutch asylum system.

At the moment there are around 75 children fighting similar battles to be allowed to stay in the country.

Now that Mauro has turned 18, under Dutch immigration law he must be deported. But his supporters argue it is not that simple.

On Tuesday Dutch Members of Parliament rejected two motions that would have given him a Dutch residence permit.

Next week they are expected to vote on a compromise motion which would allow him to stay until he hears if a temporary, four-year student visa has been granted.

Anchor Lisa Mullins speaks with John Tyler of Radio Netherlands Worldwide about the case that threatens the governing coalition.

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Lisa Mullins: An Angolan teenager has become the center of an immigration debate in the Netherlands. Mauro Manuel arrived there when he was 10 years old. His mother sent him on his own. A Dutch family took him in and raised him. Now the boy is 18 years old and the Dutch government says that he has to leave the country. It’s become a political crisis there. John Tyler of Radio Netherlands Worldwide is in the Hague. John, who is Mauro Manuel and why all this focus on this teenager?

John Tyler: Well, he seems like a really nice guy. He’s been in the press here a lot the last few days as his case has been discussed. But he is quite shy so he’s not really someone who likes to go up to all these microphones that are shoved in his face and talk. But when he does talk he’s quite soft spoken and he seems quite nice. He likes to play football, that’s one thing people know about him (soccer, as we say, of course in the United States, football as they call it over here). He supports the local team down in Limburg where he lives.

Mullins: So why is he at the vortex of this controversy in the Netherlands?

Tyler: Mauro has become the victim of, he’s sort of a political football in a much longer playing political dilemma here in the Netherlands. The Netherlands was once known as a very tolerant country and out in front when it comes to human rights and women’s rights, that sort of thing. And basically since the turn of the millennium that’s been changing. The most famous person that represents that right now is a man named Geert Wilders. He leads a populist anti-Islam party that is right now essential for the current government. They’re not part of the government, but they’re supporting the government. And this Geert Wilders is a personification of the new Netherlands, and that’s something much tougher, much harder, more anti immigrant, anti Islam, certainly Geert Wilders…a little bit afraid of all the changes in the world, sort of retreating behind the dykes, that whole kind of feeling. And unfortunately, Mauro is now caught in the middle of this where there is still a large part of the country that says no, we’re not that kind of country. We’re a tolerant country, we like immigrants, we don’t mind having kids like this here in the country. And the other half the country says no, we’ve got too many immigrants already, we’re having trouble integrating, we have to be strict, we have to maintain the law as we know it. And according to that law Mauro is really supposed to go back to Angola.

Mullins: So if he’s been there since the time he was 10 years old, he’s made a life there. He’s now 18. Why suddenly at 18 are some trying to force him back to Angola?

Tyler: Because he came to age of majority and that’s a decision moment where the Dutch government says look, you know, all your attempts to get asylum here have failed. He’s been rejected for asylum and now that he’s 18 and he’s an adult they can send him back.

Mullins: So he has grown up, Mauro Manuel, has grown up in the Netherlands because he was allowed to stay there. Does he consider himself Dutch now?

Tyler: He does. He certainly feels at home here. This is his home. He speaks Dutch. He not only speaks Dutch, he speaks Dutch with a southern accent. It’s a little bit similar to in the US, you know, there’s a big accent line north to south. And just imagine an immigrant in the US, in the middle of everything speaking with a really thick southern accent. Well, that’s kind of what you have with this young man. He speaks the dialect. He plays soccer. He roots for the team. And he is in Dutch schools and he feels very much Dutch. He hasn’t been back to Angola. I don’t think he would recognize it if he had to go there.

Mullins: In fact, he’s quoted as saying, “I promise I will always try to be an asset to the Netherlands.” But he has been joined by some very influential voices, people who are trying to keep him there. Tell us about the campaign to allow this man to stay.

Tyler: Well, as I said, the country is really pretty evenly divided about Mauro. So you have 58,000 people signed a petition saying they wanted him to be able to stay. There was a poll done yesterday that said 70% of the population said that he really should be allowed to stay. There’s a famous singer and comedian who wrote a song for him that’s now being played on the radio and she played it at a demonstration that was held yesterday outside the parliament on his behalf, where hundreds of people showed up. So it’s really pointing to a problem that gets deep to the heart of what kind of values Dutch people think they want to have these days.

Mullins: So what’s slated to happen next? Is he allowed to stay there for the time being?

Tyler: Mauro will be able to stay for the time being. There was kind of a compromise reached where he’s going to apply for a visa to be able to study here. Now, even though this compromises has been reached, a lot of people are really very, very unhappy with that and certainly how it has gone.

Mullins: Okay, John Tyler, senior editor at Radio Netherlands Worldwide talking about the campaign in the Netherlands to stop the deportation of an 18-year-old Angolan refugee, Mauro Manuel. Thank you, John.

Tyler: Sure, my pleasure.

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