Big Story Forget Me Not

ABOUT: Forget Me Not

Like any primary school in the Netherlands, De Verrekijker exists to prepare young minds for the future. But unlike most primary schools in the world, this Dutch school also has to provide safety, calm and stability for students recovering from a haunting past.

They are children of rejected asylum seekers, who fled war and conflict in their countries of origin, and are living in the quiet coastal town of Katwijk. While they await their fate in limbo, school principal Toon and his teachers do all they can to give them the best possible education.

The fragile and uncertain environment is one of the school’s biggest challenges. But its real trial is trying to create a safe haven for kids who experience the daily pain of seeing their classmates vanish.

And as each morning brings renewed worry that one more student may have been force to leave, teachers do their best to ensure those who stay are cared for, and those who leave are not forgotten.

WATCH: Forget Me Not

Big Story: Forget Me Not

“De Verrekijker” looks like a normal Dutch primary school, but the boys and girls are children of rejected asylum seekers.

Q&A with Director Jan Japp Kuiper

What attracted you to De Verrekijker?

During my very first visit to De Verrekijker, I saw life at this school as a sort of parallel reality inside the Netherlands. Panic breaking out in the schoolyard after a police visit; new pupils walking into the classroom without previous notice; teachers having to deal with traumatized children on a daily basis. One would never expect to come across any of these situations in a Dutch public primary school.

Why was it important to tell those stories?

In my film, I wanted to capture this exceptional reality. The film does not “tell” so much about the school, but rather provides an experience of what is happening there. Instead of cinematographic perfection, I focused on crucial moments and their emotional impact: a classmate not showing up at school; the impossibility of communication because of the language barrier; conversations between teachers in the meeting room.

What should we know about your filmmaking process?

As I wanted the Dutch audience to engage with the perspective of the film, I chose to tell this story from the point of view of the teachers and the school principle. I deliberately chose not to show the refugee children’s backgrounds. Instead, I focused on the result of decisions made by the government and the parents, which affected both the pupils and the teachers.

Did you make any unexpected discoveries while shooting?

Every day at De Verrekijker brought new surprises. The biggest one was the arrival of the first group of Syrian refugees. They changed daily life at the school, as well as the story of the film: suddenly, two completely different groups of children were present – those who had just arrived and those who were about to leave. As a result, the film traveled away from the original story, but gained a unique insight into the range of issues related to working with those two groups of children.

What do you hope your documentary will achieve?

Hopefully this documentary will be able to achieve what the teachers can’t: to change the situation the children find themselves in. In my opinion, the Netherlands should care more about talented and motivated children whose families come to seek asylum in our country.

Individualized attention is necessary for all students who speak Dutch as a second language. (PHOTO: Jan Jaap Kuiper)

At recess, students take a break from their studies to laugh off stress. (PHOTO: Jan Jaap Kuiper)

FACTS: Asylum in the Netherlands

Source: The Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA)

What is an Asylum Seekers Center?

Asylum seekers are entitled to reception from the time they request asylum until they receive a residence permit or must leave the Netherlands. The Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) houses them at reception centers and provides their basic needs. Asylum seekers’ rights are laid down in the Asylum Seekers and Other Categories of Aliens (Provisions) Regulations.

Basic facilities

COA has various types of reception centers throughout the Netherlands. Reception centers offer asylum seekers basic facilities such as a roof, cooking and washing areas, and computers. We also give them weekly pocket money and arrange their healthcare insurance. Their daily supervision is based on the current phase of their asylum procedure. Different facilities are available at the central reception location, process reception locations and family reception locations

Asylum seekers who have own assets or income are obliged to report this. They may have to give up part of their assets or income in order to contribute to their own reception costs and the reception costs of their family.

For whom?

All asylum seekers in the (first) asylum procedure have the right to reception and the basic facilities.  Asylum seekers coming from a safe country will be rejected quickly. Asylum seekers submitting a repeated request for asylum have the right to reception only once their Extended Asylum Procedure has started. They do not have a right to reception during the waiting period before the submission of an application for a repeated request for asylum.

Asylum seekers may also lose their right to reception in some circumstances, for example when they misbehave badly and are declared undesirable aliens

Actual situation

Due to the recent high inflow of asylum seekers, the Netherlands currently does not have enough reception places for them in normal reception centers. That is why asylum seekers are accommodated in (temporary) emergency reception locations with limited facilities.

A teacher leads a morning sing-along for student who was deported overnight. (PHOTO: Jan Jaap Kuiper)

At recess, students take a break from their studies to laugh off stress. (PHOTO: Jan Jaap Kuiper)

DATA: Refugees in Europe

A wall of photos marks the presence of those there, and the absence of those who had to leave abruptly.

A wall of photos marks the presence of those there, and the absence of those who had to leave abruptly.

A young refugee boy looks into the classroom from the playground. (PHOTO: Jan Jaap Kuiper)