A beautifully composed novel about the conflict between the rules and the reality of asylum policy
In this intricately structured novel, Heijmans delivers a compelling examination of the relative nature of our roots and the loneliness of the asylum seeker, for whom home has become an abstract concept. He contrasts this with the rigidity of a clinical system that masquerades as humane.
Albert Drilling, a special government officer of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is a diligent technocrat and a man with a mission: to personally ensure that asylum seekers return to their homeland once their legal avenues have been exhausted, ideally with a minimum of embarrassment to the relevant government minister. This mission takes him to an island off the north coast of Holland to track down an asylum seeker who has stayed behind as an illegal alien following the closure of the local detention centre. All he has to go on is her name.
Irin Past – she bears a name dreamt up by her father – feels at one with the islanders and they have taken her to their hearts. She has struck up friendships with the ferry captain, the mayor and the island’s most successful entrepreneur. Her exemplary integration into Dutch society leaves Albert undeterred. However, professional pride dictates that he must find a safe and familiar environment for asylum seekers in their country of origin.
What form might that take for Irin? She believes her roots lie in Egypt, but this too is the product of her father’s imagination. Albert heads to Cairo to find the house where she was born. There he wades his way through the uprisings of the Arab Spring, detached yet unable to escape entirely unscathed. An ironic thread is that Irin seems to be welcomed by her surroundings, while Albert is forced to grapple with a recalcitrant and hostile reality – from riots on the streets of Cairo to the treacherous wetlands of a Dutch island.
Irin’s origins lie in the Kosovar capital Pristina, of which her name is an anagram. For Albert, this is sufficient grounds to insist that she be sent back there. Irin and her friends abandon their attempts at resistance. Or could governmental rules and regulations offer an escape route after all?