Thursday, 1 September 2011

Dutch start an asylum-seeker reality TV show - or do they?

Source: Channel 24

Dutch public broadcaster VPRO has come up with a new reality show using rejected asylum-seekers that seems designed to provoke revulsion - or is it merely another bluff?

Leaving the Netherlands (Weg van Nederland) will give five rejected asylum-seekers the opportunity to show off their knowledge of their would-be adopted country with €4 000 as prize.

The sum, which would just about pay for a decent family holiday in Europe, could "provide a new start in life in the country of origin," VPRO says on its website.

After years of battling to remain in the Netherlands, the asylum-seekers have acquired a wealth of knowledge about the country, including fluency in the Dutch language, making them interesting quiz contestants for a Dutch audience.

The idea has already provoked intense reactions on the broadcaster's website. It has been called "disgraceful", "tasteless", and even "sick".

Five people, all young and well educated, and all of them wanting to stay in the Netherlands to create a new life for themselves, are to do battle with each other on the history, culture, geography and art of a country that shortly intends to throw them out - and with force if need be.

Presenter Waldemar Torenstra says in an advert for the show that Dutch television viewers can also take part, with as prize a seaside holiday in the Caribbean - even though they face no threat of being deported. The aim here is clearly to reveal the native Dutch know even less about their own country than the rejected foreigners.

VPRO has declined to comment, raising suspicions that the whole thing is a marketing gag. The show is being billed as a one-off, not as a series, which has only heightened suspicions, especially in the light of a fake kidney donor programme broadcast by rival BNN in June 2007.

Leaving the Netherlands is "an opportunity to give a face to rejected asylum-seekers", who usually remain anonymous, says Roek Lips, broadcast chief at Kanal Nederland 3, the channel on which the VPRO broadcast will be aired.

VPRO requires the candidates to be youthful and educated with a promising future and says it aims at "testing the limits" of television broadcasting.

The candidates include a young woman studying aviation technology who is being forced to return to Cameroon and a student of Slavic languages who is about to be deported to Chechnya.

The furore generated is reminiscent of the BNN organ-donor show in which three kidney patients battled it out to secure the kidneys of a terminally ill woman, who would herself choose the winner.

It all turned out to be a gag, but only after a debate in the Dutch parliament and national and international controversy. The three were in fact kidney patients, but were well aware that there were no kidneys available, while the woman was not dying.

BNN justified the show as raising awareness of the shortage of organ donors, and it had the desired effect in an increase of people registering as potential donors in the Netherlands.

The idea of using the predicament of asylum-seekers is also not new. German performance artist Christoph Schlingensief created a controversial mock imitation of the Big Brother show - itself originally a Dutch television show - on the theme of deporting foreigners.

'Foreigners Out! Schlingensief's Container' had 12 foreigners living in a container - much in the way that Big Brother contestants live in a container house - with the difference that they were to be voted not just out of the house, but out of the country.

Schlingensief was targeting anti-foreigner sentiment in Europe and the format of reality shows like Big Brother in equal measure.
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