Sarah van Walsum

Lady Justice is not blind


In Memoriam Sarah van Walsum (18 februari 1955 – 9 november 2014) (in Dutch)

The legal system is not particularly systematic. The zeitgeist has a major influence on how our laws are defined and explained. Sarah van Walsum not only examines the societal process behind migration law, but she is also actively involved in the process. “The best thing about my job is that I can shake up the way people think.”

Refugees sometimes choose to leave their children behind, because the journey is too dangerous or too uncertain. If their parents apply for family reunification once they are in the Netherlands, there is an 80 per cent chance that the children will not be admitted. The reason given is to combat the evils of child trafficking. Until the 1990s, it was unthinkable that the children of refugees would not be reunited with their parents. So why are the odds stacked against reunification now? “The family has acquired a different status,” says Sarah van Walsum, Professor of Migration Law and Family Ties. Parents separate and meet new partners, children have step-parents, the nuclear family is no longer a given. As a result, the protective function of the family has faded into the background.The law changes with the times. This enables migration law to call the importance of family relationships into question if that’s more convenient in terms of migration policy. In this case, Van Walsum believes, that is very unfortunate: “There may have been a few cases where a couple arranged for children other than their own to come to the Netherlands. But the current system implies that 80 per cent of parents are up to no good. The fact that such decisions tear families apart is largely ignored.”

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