El Al Crash Focuses Attention on Amsterdam's Foreigner Population With AM-Netherlands-Crash,
Oct. 07, 1992
El Al Crash Focuses Attention on Amsterdam's Foreigner Population With AM-Netherlands-Crash, Bjt
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands (AP) _ Standing near the El Al crash site, Mohammad Arshad of Pakistan complains about crime in the foreigner-filled Amsterdam suburb. A mother from Ghana says problems pervade the Bijlmermeer district.
Bijlmermeer. For the Dutch, just mentioning the area's name raises images of drug-dealers, poor immigrants and illegal aliens. The city government calls it Amsterdam Southeast, seeking to shake off the district's bad image.
Multi-cultural is an understatement in Bijlmermeer. People from Turkey, Suriname, Burkina Faso and other countries live closely together in seemingly endless blocks of high-rise apartments.
It was one of the 10-story apartment complexes that was struck in Sunday's crash of the Israeli airlines Boeing 747-200, which official estimates say killed at least 250 people. Many of the victims were foreigners trapped inside their apartments.
The disaster has focused attention on the low-income immigrants seeking a better life in this city known for its red-light district and coffee shops that sell marijuana.
City press department official Sabine Ruitenbeek says young male foreigners, including Moroccans, ''cause a lot of problems.''
The large number of illegal aliens is hampering efforts to track down the victims from Sunday's disaster. The city may have no records of the dead, or their friends and relatives may be hesitant to step forward.
That has led to appeals for information, coupled with assurances of no reprisals against foreigners staying here illegally.
''If illegal aliens report family members or friends (as missing), that will not result in legalization'' of their own status, says city Police Chief Eric Nordholt. ''Nor will we touch them with a finger.'' But he says Amsterdam police are in fact seeking ''criminal illegal aliens'' living in the Dutch capital, a city of about 700,000 people.
So far, 200 people displaced by the crash have applied for new housing, which will be provided to legal foreign residents and illegal alliens.
City officials have been escorting the evacuees back to their apartments, to pick up whatever personal possessions they can cram into suitcases or plastic trash bags. Some are led away in tears from the site where friends and loved ones died.
Audrey Nicholson, director of a support group for immigrants from the Netherlands Antilles, says many of the newcomers sublet rooms to others.
''For fear of reprisals from Social Services, there is a good chance they will not say anything to the authorities,'' she adds.
City records said there were 2,274 Ghanaians in Amsterdam in 1991, out of a total foreigner population of nearly 110,000. Yet, city police last spring estimated there were 10,000 Ghanaians staying illegally in Amsterdam.
''Stealing is the major thing around Bijlmermeer,'' says Comfort Konadu, a 35-year-old mother from Ghana. Though she says the district has a ''lot of problems,'' she has high praise for the Dutch after eight years in Amsterdam.
A five-room, government-subsidized apartment costs $375 a month in the high-rise complexes.
English has become the common language for many new arrivals in Bijlmermeer, where the kiosks sell newspapers from Suriname, Egypt, Turkey and Spain, as well as an Urdu newspaper for Pakistanis. One local shopping center reportedly was hit by looters shortly after the El Al crash.
Says Arshad, 49, the unemployed garage worker from Pakistan: There are ''too many thefts and robberies'' in Bijlmermeer.
''If they are caught, they are not punished,'' he adds in halting English.