‘Government, cares about highly educated refugees who want to work hard’

Every month goes by side note in discussion with refugees and status holders in the Netherlands. How did they get here? And how did they build their new life in Holland? This month: Aiman ​​Alammari (35). After living in Malaysia for 14 years, he was threatened with deportation because of his Yemeni passport. Returning to his war-torn homeland was not an option. He then decided to come to Holland.

In Yemen, Alammari grew up in the port city of Aden, located west of the Red Sea. “You pronounce it ‘Eden,’ which in the Bible is used to mean Paradise. That’s how it felt to me when I lived there. I had an amazing childhood,” he says.

Although Aden is still Yemen’s main port, the city is now in ruins. Due to the war, large parts of the infrastructure have been destroyed and power outages are common there.

“It’s only getting worse now. Sometimes they have no power there for hours, and sometimes it takes a whole day. Then I can not reach my parents and I’m worried.”

Alammari left his hometown in 2007 to study in Malaysia. He received a scholarship from the Yemeni government. ‘I was one of the best students at my high school in Yemen. I got the highest grades in my class because I was a good student, and I still do, ”he says. In 2013, he obtained his bachelor’s degree in production engineering. Two years later, he started his master’s degree.

‘You would think that with a master’s degree you could easily find a job, but that’s not how it works in Malaysia. The highest paid jobs are given only to people of Malaysian nationality. That while I speak fluent Malaysian, ”says Alammari.

While studying in Malaysia, he participated in a public speaking competition. He finished in third place. ‘I have always had a talent for languages, which allowed me to master Malaysian quickly. I’m also self-taught, so I learned it primarily by watching a lot of YouTube videos, but of course also by talking to a lot of people. I did not go to a language school for that. ‘

Alammari received a large cash prize for winning third place. He was then able to work as a freelance interpreter in Malaysian courts because he also speaks Arabic. “But I was never allowed to work there permanently as an employee. Only Malaysian people were allowed to do so. I even worked for companies that had to fire me after a week because they found out I did not have Malaysian citizenship, ”he says. ‘This is happening not only for people with a Yemeni passport, but also for all other nationalities. It is enshrined in law. ”

Alammari applied for permanent residence in Malaysia, which was repeatedly rejected. After working as an interpreter for a few years, his work visa expired and he could no longer renew it. The Malaysian government therefore asked him to leave the country as soon as possible. It’s impossible, he thought. In Yemen, he had nothing and could do nothing for his parents.

‘To still be able to stay in the country, the Yemeni embassy told me that I could try to return to study at a university. Then maybe the Malaysian government could give me a student visa again, ”he says.

For a moment, his plan seemed to succeed. He was able to do doctoral research at a university and was sent to Rome for a conference just before the pandemic in 2020. Before that, he received a temporary visa pending his new residency document to continue studying in Malaysia.

‘But then the corona broke out all over the world. The conference was canceled and I was left there with some students. Then I also found out that my student visa application in Malaysia was rejected. ‘

The world of Alammari collapsed. ‘I did not know where to go anymore, so I went on a trip through Europe with a few people while the planes were going and we still had money. We thought of Eastern Europe, because life was cheaper there than in Italy. ‘

Thus he ended up in Budapest. Alammari still wanted to return to Malaysia, because after all, he still felt at home there. He wanted to apply for a student visa again. ‘From Budapest I managed to book a flight to Kuala Lumpur with a transfer in Istanbul.’

When he was first at the airport, he was not allowed to board his plane. “The strict shutdowns had just begun in Turkey. They shut everything down.” For almost two months, Alammari was stuck in Budapest waiting for a flight to Malaysia.

‘I could not do anything. Fortunately, the Yemeni embassy in Hungary was still able to help me find a temporary home. I was allowed to live in a Yemeni family’s house, ‘he says. “Like many people, during the lockdown, I spent days alone reading and watching Netflix in hopes of redemption.”

Through his host family in Budapest, he came in contact with other migrants from Yemen. “They told me that it is better for me to apply for asylum in the Netherlands. According to them, it would be easier for people with Yemeni citizenship to get a residence permit because of the war. In Malaysia, my visa application would be rejected again and they would send me back to Yemen, ”he says. When he was able to book a flight again, Alammari therefore decided to buy a single ticket to Eindhoven.

Once there, he could not immediately apply for asylum because of his travel visa to Rome. “That visa had long since expired, but the law says that refugees with visas can only submit an asylum application when that travel document has expired more than six months. So I had to stay with friends in Eindhoven for the six months until I could go to Ter Apel to submit my asylum application.

After ten days in Ter Apel, Alammari was sent to the asylum seeker center in Drachten, Friesland. ‘While I was waiting for my BSN number and residence permit, I was in the asylum seeker center in Drachten for up to eight months,’ says Alammari. ‘When they were finally able to provide me with a valid residence document at the beginning of last year, my contact person at the COA (Central Organization for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, ed.) Told me that I was going to the Frisian municipality. of Tytsjerksteradiel. That was where I wanted to get my house. But it’s a village in the middle of nothing“I could not find a job there, there is nothing for me there and I can not even pronounce the place name ‘, he says.

‘I should be grateful for what I got’

Alammari told the COA that he did not want to stay in Friesland. ‘If I had a family, it would have been nice to live in a village. But I’m alone and I have no business there. But his contact did not respond.

‘I should just be grateful for what I got, because thousands of other refugees are desperate for a home in Friesland for me. If I wanted to go to the urban area, the COA would require me to demonstrate that I have a job or study there. Only then would they consider my move request ‘.

For example, he enrolled in a production engineering studio in Amsterdam. His application was accepted and he was able to start his studies in September 2021. However, due to the acute housing shortage, the COA was not able to move him to Amsterdam immediately. He could temporarily visit friends he had met at the asylum seeker center, but at that time it was too late for him to start studying.

‘Then I decided to look for work in Amsterdam. I applied to several companies to work as an engineer, but I did not have enough experience and I do not speak fluent Dutch yet. That’s why I was rejected every time I applied for a job. “

He eventually found a job at fast food chain Kentucky Fried Chicken on Damrak. ‘I still work there now and then. After working there for a month, I sent my contact person at COA my employment contract and payslip to prove that I have a job in Amsterdam so they can arrange a home for me there. It worked in the end. I was sent to a so-called ‘bridge location’. It is a building near the Red Light District. There are several status holders waiting for a home ‘, says Alammari. “I would not stay there for more than a few months, but I have been waiting for almost a year now.”

Despite the hopeless life situation in Amsterdam, Alammari sees it positively. He still dreams of a career as a mechanical engineer in a large company. Therefore, he will soon start at a language school to speak Dutch as fluently as he speaks Malaysian and Arabic.

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