Immigrant's suicide lays bare reality of deportation


THE NETHERLANDS was given a shocking lesson last week in the real-life desperation behind the politics of immigration when a 36-year-old man from Burundi killed himself to improve the chances of his two children being allowed to remain in Holland.

Alain Hatungimana lost his wife during the Burundian civil war, in which 300,000 people were killed between 1993 and 2005. Then, five years ago, he managed to escape to the Netherlands with his son, Abdillah, and daughter, Maimuna – hoping, given the political circumstances, to be granted asylum and allowed to start anew.

The family was settled in the little eastern town of Culemborg, where – like so many asylum-seekers before them – Abdillah and Maimuna, now 14 and 12 respectively, started to go to school, make friends and learn Dutch.

Abdillah even started to make a bit of a name for himself playing with the local soccer team.

But the political climate in the Netherlands has changed. The minority Liberal-Christian Democrat coalition, supported in power by the right-wing Freedom Party, has adopted a tough anti-immigrant stance – and in August of last year, Mr Hatungimana and his children were told their application had been rejected. They were to be deported.

Mr Hatungimana became unwell, suffering from depression and fretting over what would happen to his children. The municipal council of Culemborg took up the case and appealed to immigration minister Gerd Leers, asking him to exercise his personal powers of discretion and allow the family to stay.

The council told the minister in writing that the family had integrated successfully and deserved special consideration, given Mr Hatungimana had already lost his wife, the two teenagers their mother – and the future awaiting them in Burundi was perilous at best. To no avail.

Stories such as this one are becoming all too common in the Netherlands. Last year, there was the case of 14-year-old Sahar, who in the end was allowed to stay after she and her family had been threatened with deportation back to Afghanistan.

Then there was Angolan teenager Mauro, who’d been in Holland since he was aged 10 but was told he was being sent back to Angola simply because he’d turned 18. He’s so far been allowed to remain on a student visa. These cases are just the tip of the iceberg.

In this latest case, Mr Leers – a Christian Democrat who ironically has been criticised by Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders for being too soft on immigration – was determined not to appear weak, and so the Hatungimanas’ appeal was rejected.

Last Monday, the day before he and his children were due to be deported, Alain Hatungimana quietly took his own life.

The circumstances have not been made public, but it’s believed he did so in the clinic where he was being treated for depression. Those who treated him say they have no doubt the act was a final desperate attempt to prevent his children from being sent back to Burundi – though it remains uncertain whether he’s achieved even that.

Abdillah is reported by family friends to have gone from soccer-playing teenager to a distraught orphan who repeatedly accuses Mr Leers and the Naturalisation and Immigration Service of “murdering” his father. Maimuna has simply gone silent. Both are now in temporary foster care.

The story became public only last Thursday, the day Mr Hatungimana was buried, with his children’s teachers, members of the soccer club and neighbours lining the graveside.

Campaigners now say they regret not going to the media sooner. They say they held back because the government had made clear in previous cases that it did not look favourably on asylum seekers they regarded as “publicity seeking”. As a result, there was no outcry.

The immigration ministry in The Hague said it “regretted” the suicide, noting Mr Hatungimana had had “psychiatric problems”.