Jean Pierre Mujyambere graduated from Erasmus University in 2014. The now 41 year old Congolese completed his master in International and European Public Law. Cum laude. Mujyambere is also an asylum seeker. The Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) wants him to return to Congo, but he says that this will be impossible. As a political dissident, he isn’t safe there. Furthermore, his son Steve (8) and daughter Ornella (4) grew up here, so for them it doesn’t mean returning to Congo, but leaving the Netherlands. He now lives with his family in Werkendam, but still doesn’t have a work permit to be able to work.

You graduated over a year ago cum laude. Last year, there was a petition and the schools in Werkendam held protests to try and get a residence permit for you and your family. A Facebook page was set up and the campaign attracted lots of media attention. Then nothing. But you’re still here. How’s life for you now?

“I do absolutely nothing. I’m not allowed to work. I can only do voluntary work. And my wife can’t do anything either. We’re forced to sit at home. Something I can do is read. Luckily I’ve been educated as an academic, and read books is something I can always do. So I read books about international law. I’m allowed to do research in my head. And I’m also doing a Dutch language course, preparing for the National Exam at B2 level.”

It must be difficult not having been able to work for a whole year. Don’t you ever feel like just staying in bed in the morning?

(Laughs) “I get up at seven o’clock every morning. The children go to school, so I have to get them ready. That helps you keep to a routine. And I love running and cycling, which keeps you fit.”

‘We applied for a visa so that I can work as a highly qualified immigrant. That was in July. It’s now November…’

Heb je na je afstuderen naar werk gezocht?

“Yes, what’s more, thanks to the UAF (the foundation which supports highly qualified refugees; see box), I found a job. The University of Tilburg gave me a job as researcher. They wanted me to do research into how businesses can be held liable for human rights violations under the judicial system of the African Union. But so far, I haven’t been given permission to work. We applied for a visa so that I can work as a highly qualified immigrant. That was in July. It’s now November…”

Aren’t you afraid that it will all take too long for Tilburg?

“The university applied for the visa, so they know the situation. They keep me informed of any progress. But I don’t understand why it’s taking so long. I don’t hear anything at all at the moment. I don’t know exactly how long it’s supposed to take, but other people usually get one within three months.”

How did you get to the Netherlands from Congo?

“I arrived in 2011 through the family reunion process. My wife and son already lived in the Netherlands. They were living in this house. My son (Steve) came here when he less than a year old. So he doesn’t know home to be anywhere else than the Netherlands. My daughter was actually born here. They only speak Dutch and have Dutch friends. Officially I’m still registered with the asylum detention centre in Utrecht. I’ve been going there every Thursday since 2011 to get a stamp.”

About UAF

The UAF helps highly qualified refugees find a ‘suitable social position’. In practice, that means that they provide help in finding a study and then finding a job at the right level. That support takes the form of conversations as well as financial help. For example, the UAF pays the tuition fees, travel expenses, books and language courses. Most students tend to graduate in medicine, economics and engineering. Six students are currently studying at Erasmus University with support from the UAF.

Ornella was born here, Steve came here when he was just a few months old. Why aren’t they eligible for the children’s amnesty?

“That’s my fault. I came to the Netherlands from Burundi, where I was living in a refugee camp. While I was there, the Dutch Immigration Service IND checked whether I was Congolese. One of the things they did was to check my DNA with that of my son. That showed that I’m his father. The IND also got my passport. We therefore fulfilled all the conditions for the children’s amnesty. But it wasn’t granted to Steve and Ornella, because in 2007 I used an ID from another country. In other words, my son has to suffer for things that his father did in the past. The children’s amnesty was refused because there were doubts about my nationality. According to the IND we aren’t Congolese enough to stay, but we are Congolese enough to be send back.”

How did you manage to study here with so little money?

“That’s all thanks to the UAF. When highly qualified refugees come to the Netherlands, they receive a flyer from the UAF. That’s when I contacted them. After a couple of months, they accepted my application. They were willing to support me! But first I had to learn the language, they said. So I did: first level A1, A2, and then B1. Now I’m preparing for the national exam at B2 level. They asked me what I wanted to study. I wanted to do international law. Learn about international organisations, regional systems to protect human rights. How the EU operates, how the World Health Organisation works. One of the universities they recommended was Erasmus University, which also appealed most to me. Students at EUR come from all over the world. Very multicultural. You can really benefit from that. They guided me right through the procedure and advised me. Eventually I was admitted to the master. The UAF paid for everything: tuition fees, travel expenses and even books. Everything except food, drinks and housing.”

How do you feel about the UAF doing that?

“I thought it was amazing: I dedicated my mas- ter’s thesis to UAF. They did so much for me. They gave me the opportunity to study. That gave me a huge boost. It gave me direction. It was one of the few good things I had in my life. I was very worried that I’d be deported, but my studies gave me something to focus on.”

‘There’s a children’s amnesty, it’s a democratic country. There’s a law. And I believe that eventually justice will be done. That’s what I’m desperately hoping’

Jean Pierre Mujyambere

How did you find studying at Erasmus University, mostly with much younger students, with very different lives, very different backgrounds

“I’m 41, but in my programme there were even a few students older than me! Two or three. Most were obviously around 25. But what I really appreciated was that we were all actually the same. Just as ‘old’, not literally of course, but in terms of being equal. My master was very international. We all came from somewhere: we learned the culture here from each other. People from Georgia, Poland, Germany, Austria, Ethiopia, Ireland. It was really diverse. Then they’d ask me: what’s the news from Congo? That went back and forth. Age wasn’t important.”

Did you make some friends?

“Yes, I made lots of friends. We always worked in groups: did homework together, prepared presentations. We were always together. Now that we’ve graduated, we’re still in touch with each other, particularly via Whatsapp. My studies have given me a network! We give each other tips, we chat. Sometimes we even tell each other about vacancies we’ve seen. And if someone’s going on holiday to Africa, they ask me for tips. And I’m certain if I visit a country where one of the other students comes from, they would welcome me too.”

What if you don’t get a visa? Do you ever think about that possibility?

(Is silent) “Yes, I do. It’s very difficult, but I have faith. I just have to assume that the Dutch rule of law doesn’t exist only on paper. The Netherlands is a country that respects human rights. There’s a children’s amnesty, it’s a democratic country. There’s a law. And I believe that eventually justice will be done. That’s what I’m desperately hoping.

What I don’t understand is this. I have a job, but I don’t understand why I’ve had to wait so long for a work permit. As a family, we need protection in this country. We can’t go back to Congo. But I don’t want to live on other people’s money. I want to pay my taxes in this country just like every other working person here! The only problem is that I haven’t got a permit to work.”