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Controversy over use of ‘razzia’

14 October 2007 - To the annoyance of the police, immigrant rights organisations are using the word razzia to refer to large-scale arrests of undocumented immigrants. Not just in Amsterdam the term is controversial, but also in Paris.

Last summer, council member Ivar Manuel (D66) was criticised by his VVD and CDA colleagues for using the word razzia to refer to a police raid at bar het Vervolg in Zuidoost, in which over a hundred illegal immigrants had been arrested. Maurice Limmen (CDA) called the use of this word ‘ill-mannered’.

In response to the raid, immigrant rights organisations launched the Stop Police Razzias Campaign. They held a protest in Zuidoost last Wednesday after Michael Osey from Ghana had died falling from a balcony while trying to escape the police. Protestors said razzias had caused his fear of the police.

Police spokesperson Ad Smit told AT5: “No - what they like to call - razzias for illegal immigrants are held here in de Bijlmer, for if we wanted to do that, all we would have to do is close off certain areas and we would have hundreds of them. That is absolutely not the case”.

One might object that this is pretty much what happened at het Vervolg last summer. And in fact what has been going on since 2002.

In France too, controversy has arisen over use of the word razzia (rafle) to refer to mass arrests of illegal immigrants, according to a report in yesterday’s le Monde. Such raids, carried out at metro entrances or in bars frequented by immigrants, have become common in Paris since August 2006. According to one politician, they are a means for the police to meet deportation quotas.

Like the word razzia, the French rafle can refer both to large scale police raids in general and to German raids to arrest Jews during the Second World War. Historian Pierre Milza says it was a very common word during the Interbellum. Even the police used it frequently: “We are going to do a rafle at Pigalle, they would say straight out when they were going to arrest prostitutes and pimps”.

The association with the holocaust is of course why some people object to using the term in today’s context. Human rights activist Jean-Pierre Dubois says the term should be not be abused, but adds: “There comes a time when you have to call things by their name”.

Photo: All Included / Indymedia. AT5, Razzias since 2002 (in Dutch)


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