Personal reflections from a Shadow Domestic Worker in The Netherlands
by Jacob Apostol of FILMIS
It was February 27 2020 when I received a call from a friend while I was at work. It was about the news of the first case of corona virus infection in the Netherlands. The news was very disturbing for me, and, of course, for the rest of the population in the Netherlands. That moment, I felt a sense of apprehension, thinking about what was to come once the corona virus spread in the country. At first, I tried to soothe myself with the thought that this might be another example of fake news or disinformation being circulated in the community.
The image of my family flashed in my mind. Questions were pounding in my brain: “What if this is true?” “What will happen to my family if I get the virus and cannot work?” “How can I support them?” “What will the Dutch government do to contain the virus?” “Will they implement stringent measures that might worsen our situation as undocumented migrants?” These questions kept bothering me while I was doing my work. To clear the doubts in my mind, I got my mobile phone and scrolled down the latest news on the internet. I found a Dutch news and information site for expatriates that confirmed the news was true. Now I was certain beyond doubt that the Dutch government would soon impose a lockdown akin to Italy or Spain to contain the coronavirus outbreak. And after two weeks, on March 15, lockdown in the Netherlands happened!
This image of a shadow represents our position as Undocumented in Dutch society, our unknown identity. It symbolises how the government treats us: they see us as shadows. They absolutely know we exist, that we work and do our part in the society, cleaning and caring and other work. Yet they refuse to see us in our physical being with basic needs like the rest of humanity, even amid the coronavirus pandemic. They do not want to recognise the real human beings that create the shadows, and fail to realise we are the essence of those shadows.
Like the rest of the country, government lockdown left me no choice but to stay most of every day within the four walls of my small room which served as my comfort zone for more than two months. In my darkest hours, while I was battling the boredom of life under lockdown, my books were my best companions. They provided me with a means to battle my anxiety, fear and sadness in the face of pandemic. Reading books became my weapon to divert my thoughts towards to a more positive side of life. Through reading, I was inspired and gained courage to continue my struggle as an individual person, as an undocumented migrant and as a human being. In this sense, lockdown offered me a rare opportunity to find a good reason for our meaningful struggles. In solace, I discovered more about human nature, society and the world around me. Truly this crisis has shown me the best and the worst in people and in governments.
It’s hard to imagine I could experience in my lifetime a pandemic crisis as ferocious as this one. The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has put the global economy into recession and claimed millions of human lives around the world. For me along with thousands of undocumented domestic workers across the Netherlands who lost their jobs, it has meant a battle for survival amid the pandemic. I believe lockdown was the most logical measure the Dutch government could take in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. We had to support this to save more lives as the coronavirus continued preying on the most vulnerable groups. Of course, I also felt bothered by the new reality that lockdown caused – a severe impact on the situation of thousands of undocumented people like me who lack the protection of the law.
Other sectors such as businesses, regular workers, contractors and the self-employed, among others, received help from the government, with new measures designed to help them survive amid the lockdown. But we did not. It seems ironic that undocumented domestic workers in the Netherlands lost their jobs due to Covid-19 and were left behind during the crisis despite their significant contributions to Dutch society. Remember, we domestic workers clean your houses so others have time to build this country. We also take care of your children so that this country will have a future. And we hold the frail arms of your elderly parents so that they have more time to enjoy the fruits of your labors!
Now, how do you show that you value us in our hour of greatest need?