On art, freedom of expression, and embassies in the Netherlands

Letty Reimerink over at CityLab reports on Manon van Hoeckel’sIn Limbo Embassy” —

No visas, asylum requests or official papers get processed at the trailer, known as the “In Limbo Embassy.” There is, however, a certain kind of diplomacy as migrant “ambassadors” shake hands with people passing by and invite them inside for conversation.

Manon van Hoeckel, the art student who launched this “embassy for the undocumented,” says the goal is to foster communication. Dutch citizens, who have been divided over the migration crisis, get personal contact with people they might otherwise hear about only in news reports. Meanwhile, migrants can ask questions about the place they aspire to call home. “They are interested in hearing what other people do,” van Hoeckel says of the ambassadors. “They talk about what kind of work they did back home and what they would like to contribute here.”

As Europe debates a response to the waves of people coming from the Middle East and North Africa, efforts like the In Limbo Embassy are one way of building trust and understanding in the host countries. The Dutch government has agreed to take in 7,000 additional refugees this year, increasing its total for 2015 to 35,000. While some Dutch citizens are collecting clothes, toys and food to help the newcomers, others are fearful about their arrival.

Fed up with people venting anti-immigrant hatred—often anonymously through social media—van Hoeckel wanted to find a way to encourage face-to-face exchanges. She set out to use art to create a platform for migrants to express the only right they have in the Netherlands: the right of free expression.