Amsterdam refugee commemoration cancelled amidst protests

King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima at the National Commemoration on Amsterdam's Dam Square, Remembrance Day 2014
King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima at the National Commemoration on Amsterdam's Dam Square, Remembrance Day 2014. (Photo: Nationaal Comité 4 en 5 mei / Wikimedia Commons )

A commemoration for asylum seekers who died in the crossing to Europe arranged for Amsterdam on Thursday evening, at the same time as the national commemoration for WWII victims for Remembrance Day, has been canceled, the initiators announced in an open letter. "Because it was never our intention to commemorate refugees from angry words, we decided to stop our initiative", Matthijs Jaspers said, Het Parool reports.

The initial plan was to put 30 thousand white paper crosses on the Rembrandtplein to commemorate asylum seekers who died while trying to reach the safety of Europe. This would have been done at the same time as the National Commemoration on Dam Square. But the plans of Jaspers and co-initiator Rikko Voorberg were immediately met with criticism and complaints. Jewish organization CIDI complained that commemorating asylum seekers at the same time as WWII victims will on Dutch history and society.  "May 4th is not a suitable time for commemorating killed asylum seekers - no matter how well meaning."

The organization called on Amsterdam to stop the refugee commemoration, but the city could only ban demonstrations if there is a definite risk of disorder, traffic disruption or health risk. And to make sure that these risks are avoided, Mayor Eberhard van der Laan decided to move the asylum seeker commemoration to Nieuwmarkt. "To in this way add or detract nothing from the annual commemoration of the estimated 60 million victims of World War II", he wrote. 

But the move did not satisfy everyone. On Wednesday CIDI called Nieuwmarkt as commemoration place a bad idea, according to Het Parool. And political party Leefbaar Amsterdam announced that it is organizing a protest against the refugee commemoration.

The initiators therefore decided to cancel the commemoration, due to al the fuss. "We never expected to encounter such resistance. Many organizations and people felt we were trying to hijack their commemoration, but that was never our intention", Jaspers said. "We wanted to give people the opportunity to commemorate another group of victims and involve a younger generation in the National Commemoration. For what is the black page of this era? The refugee crisis. Now we are mostly focused on the victims of the pitch-black page of the previous generation."

The initiators will gather at the Protestant Diaconie on Thursday to watch the ceremony on Dam Square and "wonder what the hell happened in the last few days", Jaspers said. "We planted a seed and hope to in the future attend the commemoration with more current content."