‘We’re very excited and still just feeling so much disbelief’, says Darlington, a RUG alumnus. ‘Right now, we’re just trying to fathom what exactly is going on, but we’re really ecstatic.’
Luc Rengers, a PvdA council member in Assen who has been advocating on behalf of the brothers for nearly a decade, got the call from The Hague on Monday afternoon that Darlington and Prosper would receive a residency permit. ‘I said, I’ll have to call you back in 15 minutes’, he says. ‘I was feeling very emotional, so I just sat in my house and cried for a while.’
Secretary of State Klaas Dijkhoff had decided to use his discretionary power to make it possible for the brothers to continue living in the Netherlands. Rengers says they are all still awaiting the official statement to arrive in the mail on Tuesday, but he was able to get confirmation from the mayor of Assen on Monday evening at 7:30.
With that confirmation, Rengers called Darlington with the good news. ‘He called and told me in quite a dramatic way that we can stay’, he says, with undeniable excitement in his voice. Darlington in turn called Prosper, and then the brothers and their advocates got together to pop champagne and celebrate.
Aged 14 and 11 at the time, the brothers fled to the Netherlands from the civil war in Sierra Leone in 2001 after losing both of their parents. They eventually started school in Assen and quickly learned Dutch, and both of them went on to study in Groningen: Darlington is an alumnus of communication and information sciences at the RUG, and Prosper enrolled at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences to study civil engineering.
Johan Bos, Darlington’s former master supervisor, is also relieved at the news. ‘Of course I’m delighted, this is amazing news’, he writes via email. ‘But at the same time, I’m still disappointed that it took so long.’ Darlington says that while individuals within the university have lent them their support, the RUG has not taken a public stand in their case.
Since graduation, the brothers have been stuck in a stressful limbo state: they did not have to leave the Netherlands, but they also could not really do much of anything due to their lack of legal recognition. ‘They fell between the cracks’, Rengers says. ‘They were a couple of months too late to qualify for a general pardon, but at the same time, they were too old for a children’s pardon.’
But now, after 15 years of uncertainty, the brothers are eager to move on with their lives. ‘Words cannot explain how much joy we feel right now’, says Prosper. ‘After a long time of struggles and fights, we finally got to hear the news we have been waiting for since the past 15 years of our lives. It’s a new beginning for us.’