Dutch game show highlights asylum seekers' plight

AP News
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Posted: Sep 02, 2011 10:34 AM
Dutch game show highlights asylum seekers' plight

The nation that brought the television world "Big Brother" and a hoax game show with a donor kidney prize has now pitted five young rejected asylum seekers against one another to compete for euro4,000 ($5,700) for when they are kicked out of the country.

The one-off show "Weg Van Nederland" ("Out of the Netherlands") shone a satirical light on the plight of young asylum seekers slated for expulsion by Dutch immigration authorities despite having spent most of their childhoods here and speaking the language fluently.

It tried to upend the perception among many native Dutch that immigrants don't successfully integrate. Gulistan, an 18-year-old Kurd whose family fled Armenia 11 years ago, won the Dutch trivia quiz by correctly answering questions like, "Who was the first king of the Netherlands?" and artistically carving a map of the Netherlands out of a slab of cheese.

Blessing, who fled Cameroon to avoid an arranged marriage, was not so lucky. She was the first contestant ejected from the show, walking up a set of stairs to a mocked-up airplane door clutching her consolation prize _ a flak jacket decorated with traditional Delft Blue patterns.

In a departing message, she said she hoped "that in the future I get a chance to show what I can offer the Netherlands."

Frank Wiering, editor in chief of the VPRO network that made the show, said Blessing is unlikely to get the chance _ he said she could be expelled any time in the next two months.

The show that aired Thursday night generated far more buzz among foreign media than Dutch viewers, a possible indication that this country's long-held reputation as a tolerant nation always ready to welcome foreigners is a thing of the past.

Wiering said he thought the show was a success despite the muted reaction.

"Up until now, we only knew these people from pitiful news stories," he said Friday. "Now they have played a full role in a sarcastic event and I thought that was powerful."

The government said Friday about 11,500 rejected asylum seekers and other illegal immigrants are awaiting expulsion. Activists say some 2,000 of them are youngsters who have been in the Netherlands for more than five years while their asylum applications and appeals were handled by authorities.

Immigration Minister Gerd Leers had no comment on the show, but he issued a statement before it aired saying he did not want to be drawn into a discussion about the "good or less good taste" of TV networks and stressed that the conservative coalition government has a fair asylum policy.

"Every asylum application is carefully assessed," he said, adding that asylum seekers could also appeal their rejection to higher courts _ the lengthy appeal process is part of the reason some asylum seekers can remain in the Netherlands for so long.

The five contestants were all well educated and listed local delicacies such as stroopwafels _ sticky treacle cookies _ among their favorite foods. The winner, Gulistan, has just graduated from high school and hoped to start a law degree.

Contestants were asked about Dutch history, but also popular culture _ most of them correctly answered a question about which of a group of Dutch celebrities had not undergone plastic surgery.

Part of the motivation for the show came from the youngsters themselves, said Carla van Os of a group called Defence for Children, which helped recruit contestants.

"They said, 'we've been on TV so often and nothing happens, let's try something new," Van Os said.