December 19th 2007: Behind the high metal fence gate and barriers there after, at a prison better known as a “detainees centre” in Tilburg, Asylum seeker Ernest Ayodele Mason is keenly awaiting the outcome of his plea for asylum.
Entry for journalists keen to visit him in Jail is severely restricted. Allowed to carry only small change and key of the locker where they are supposed to park their belongings before meeting him, they are under watchful eyes of prison officers. Following Minister for Immigration and Integration, Rita Verdonk’s threat to publish information about deportees who speak to press, even detainees are tight lipped and not willing to share their plight. Minister is reportedly upset with “biased” reporting of the media on the subject. Mason has only ID badge and is unable to satisfy authorities that he was journalist and is at risk.
Mason is currently facing prospect of expulsion to Sierra Leone. He worked as a journalist/producer for the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Services in the African state from 1994 to 1998. As per him, he was put under pressure to report pro-rebel propaganda around the time of the coup that ousted President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Despite his toeing the line, his name appeared on hit list for untrustworthy journalists.
As he got first chance to flee, he escaped to Ghana and thereafter arrived in the Netherlands where he immediately announced himself as an asylum seeker in need of a safe haven. Mason was sent to an asylum seekers centre and appealed the decision not to grant him asylum.
The problem in his case arose as a result of an altercation with a member of the Foreign Police, or Vreemdelingpolitie. As he was reporting to police as required under the asylum condition, one day at the asylum seekers centre (AZC) in Helmond he was at the front of what would become a very long line. There was pushing and shoving in the line and a policewoman told him to go back to the end of the line.
He protested while policewoman threatened him that she would get him into “big trouble”. The end result was that Mason was fined NLG 250 (EUR 113) and a notation that he was a “threat to public order” was attached to his file. He struck a deal with his landlord to work in lieu of rent and paid the fine. A few days later his appeal for asylum was denied because the notation was still attached to his name. Mason was thrown out of the asylum program and his ID was confiscated. He had no papers and no income.
Mason is a desperate man; he does not understand why he is being treated like a criminal. His latest lawyer has told him not to speak to the press and not to write to the Raad van State, the highest appeals court for administrative law in the Netherlands, or the Court of Human Rights.
When asked if he wanted me to contact any friends to visit him? No, he doesn’t like visitors because he is strip searched each time.