Border patrol accused of ethnic profiling in Amnesty International case

File photo of the Koninklijke Marechaussee - Royal Military PolicePhoto: Koninklijke Marechaussee

Mpanzu Bamenga from Eindhoven and a number of civil rights organizations are filing a lawsuit against the Koninklijke Marechaussee, accusing the government service of ethnic profiling. According to Amnesty International, one of the organizations involved in this case, this is the first time the Dutch State is sued over this form of discrimination, RTL Nieuws reports.

The Koninklijke Marechaussee is a policing force that works as part of the Dutch military. It is responsible for border security, including at airports.

Bamenga, also a member of the Eindhoven city council, told RTL that he is regularly stopped by Marechaussee officers because of the color of his skin. The most recent incident happened at Eindhoven Airport. "I just came back from Rome. Together with another dark man and a dark woman with children, I was picked out of line for an extra check," he said to the broadcaster. "I asked: what's going on? I was so surprised. In response, I was told: We are looking for criminals and asylum seekers."

That was ethnic profiling, Bamenga said. He and the other family were picked out of line purely based on the color of their skin. "That is not only forbidden, but also very annoying. It is humiliating too. Because it is discriminatory." 

In recent months Bamenga, together with organizations Control Alt Delete, NJCM, and Amnesty International tried hard to point this out to the Marechaussee. "But without results. That is why we are now filing a civil case against the government," Gerbrig Klos of Amnesty International said to the broadcaster. "Because it is harmful. It affects the wellbeing of people touched by this. And it contributes to the stigmatization of people."

They hope that this will help put an end to discriminatory border controls, Bamenga said. "Ethnicity must no longer be used as a risk indicator. The government is there to protect us all. Also against discrimination. The fundamental rights of many Dutch people are being violated. That must stop."

The accusation against the Marechaussee was levied on the same day that the branch of the military released annual figures showing a 17 percent increase in cases where a passenger was refused entry into the Netherlands at the country’s airports. At passport control checkpoints, Marechaussee stopped 2,892 passengers from crossing the border, up from 2,462 in 2018, the service told newswire ANP.

A spokesperson confirmed to ANP that the service uses “border security profiling” to spot suspect travelers, and if necessary after questioning, begin an investigation. The Marechaussee said it stops passengers from entry if they are associated with international crime like identity fraud, are sought by law enforcement domestically or abroad, or are vague about their destination, the newswire reported.

They are also denied access to the country when they have insufficient funds to stay there, or when they do not have appropriate documentation. They may be flagged for extra questioning when their initial answers raise suspicions, they act in a dubious manner, or have an unusual travel route.