Oranje, an insignificant village in Drenthe on a canal, which suddenly became national news at the end of 2015 after residents stopped buses full of asylum seekers so that they could not enter the village. Because 1,400 asylum seekers out of about 140 residents, they thought that was too much of a good thing in Orange.
Orange became the epitome of the Dutch approach to the refugee crisis of 2015. Politicians were taken by surprise by the arrival of the high number of refugees and forced municipalities to clear sports halls, holiday parks and empty buildings to accommodate the thousands of asylum seekers. There was resistance in many places in the country.
The best-known image of the resistance in Orange was that of a resident who was violently dragged to the ground after she stood in front of the car of State Secretary Klaas Dijkhoff (Asylum Affairs, VVD). She lay on the ground screaming.
Also read our report from 2015: In Orange you are for or against the asylum seekers
Director and Golden Calf winner Sander Francken visited Oranje after the news cameras had lost interest in the village. In three years he traveled to Drenthe twenty times and made the documentary Orange – how a small village can be big. “I expected that a major intercultural drama was in the offing,” says Francken about the arrival of the hundreds of refugees in the small Drenthe community. But the story took a surprising turn.
The documentary begins with the slowness of life in the village of Drenthe. Empty fields, quiet streets, here and there a passing car. The residents fear that the arrival of the asylum seekers will change their everyday lives: slower internet, an overcrowded neighborhood bus and, above all, crowds in the village. But after the arrival of the first refugees, the concerns increase.
Concerns about drugs
“They draw lines of drugs on the beer table,” says a resident for Francken’s camera. “I’ve heard that every two days a car drives into the property selling the drugs,” a city councilor adds. “They would sell telephone cards,” the resident quotes the statement from the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA). “But I don’t believe any of that.”
Director Francken can imagine that resistance. “The Orange experiment was not considered in The Hague,” says Francken. “Decisions were made without consultation with the residents and within a few days buses full of asylum seekers drove into Orange and they were allowed to sort it out.” A major political mistake, according to Francken.
Meanwhile, behind the barriers of a bungalow park, hundreds of asylum seekers were waiting for their residence permits. They are insecure, tired and above all bored. They can and can hardly do anything in the village. Francken films how violinist Whalid tries to approach the community by playing Silent Night on his violin during a church service in a barn. At first it’s quiet, then people hum and at the end they sing along in full blast. In broken English, Whalid thanks the people of Drenthe for their hospitality.
The atmosphere in Orange is slowly changing. According to Francken, the tipping point is a council meeting in 2015 in which it is decided that a maximum of 600 asylum seekers may live in the village for five years. “There were grumblers, but then most residents were willing to make the best of it,” says Francken.
Exotic Grocery Store
One resident did his best for the asylum seekers. Flower grower Jan Voortman started an exotic grocery store in his greenhouses, which became a meeting place for the asylum seekers’ center residents. “Thanks to him, the Orange experiment still succeeded,” says Francken, who dedicated the film to him. “Jan was a man who, after talking two or three times, made you feel like he was your friend. The asylum seekers felt that too.”
But in 2017 the asylum seekers’ center came to an early end. To the disappointment of many residents, the documentary shows. Picnicking ladies in their driveways, that was actually quite nice. After the asylum seekers left, silence returned to the canal village of Drenthe, the residents said with a sigh.
Even now, the documentary is still current, says Francken. “There is a great fear among the Dutch for asylum seekers, which is partly understandable. But you can see from the events in Orange that that fear is not always justified in the end.” According to Francken, an important lesson that Orange learns is that “personal contacts change the atmosphere in a positive sense”. And that is difficult if asylum seekers are isolated in a holiday park and are not allowed to do anything but wait, says Francken.
The documentary ‘Orange – how a small village can be big’ can be seen from this week in the DNK cinema in Assen. It is not yet clear whether the documentary will be broadcast on television.