Illegal residents of ADM yard Amsterdam forced to move after more than 20 years

Written by Phoebe Potter Illegal

Conceived as a shipyard, the ADM – Amsterdamsche Drydock Company NV – has been through a vibrant history. On 7 January 2019, that history took a turn that has been met with deep sadness by the community that squatted there for over 20 years. First opened in 1877, the Amsterdamsche Drydock Company took over a plot on the north side of the river IJ as a shipyard. For almost one hundred years, up until 1985, the company was active in ship repair, ship conversions and bulky machinery. In its later years, it was mostly engaged in building new ships. The plot’s modern history began when the ADM company went bankrupt in 1985. Remaining empty for over ten years, in 1997 new life was breathed into the plot, when 130 squatters moved in.

The group was made up of a creative community of artists, craftsmen and freethinkers who were originally from the self-titled ‘Amsterdam do-it-yourself society’. It was this living community that was forcefully evacuated by the municipality of Amsterdam on 7 January 2019. Though existing mainly as a self-serving living community, the ADM group was also commited to cultural promotion. The biggest cultural output of the group was the internationally famous ‘Robodock’ festival which took place annually at the ADM, which offered workshops, dance classes, yoga and vegetarian and vegan cafés. The ADM community also organised regular concerts and performances. Cultural residents of the ADM included bands like Bucket Boyz, The Beatzers and Zibabu. There was also a significant environmental commitment from the group, who mainly lived in the now famous ‘tiny houses’, which are very eco-friendly. Additionally, the site – which was originally barren – how has more than 2500 trees and 200 solar panels, as a result of the residents’ work. The rosy picture painted by the community and their activities, however, arguably only tells half of the story. Over the years, they have faced significant legal battles about their right to live on the land. The battle was finally lost, resulting in their evacuation this January. In 2015, the owners of the land asked the municipality of Amsterdam to vacate the site. At the time, as the owners had not yet submitted concrete plans for the site, the municipal authorities did not want to intervene. As the owners have now put forward a specific plan for a client who wants to build a new shipyard in the area, the evacuation was allowed to go ahead.

The evacuation, however, has created an very lively debate in the city council, which has largely been split down political lines. The left side of the political spectrum, consisting of GroenLinks and BIJI, has been at odds with the right, represented by the VVD and the Forum for Democracy. In a show of colourful debate, the local chairman of the FvD, Annabel Nanninga, said that the city’s patience with the ADM squatters and the offer to let them move to the sludge fields in Noord was an example of ‘typical Amsterdam left-wing madness’ that cannot be explained outside the city limits. The offer to move arose in 2018 in an attempt to compromise with the squatters regarding their evacuation. The municipality took some responsibility for their re-housing by offering the site of the former water treatment plant in Noord. The squatters originally rejected the offer, as they claimed it only gave them a two-year stay on the silt fields without prospect of a Free Experimental Space afterwards. The silt fields furthermore do not have room for all current residents of the ADM; for those living on houseboats – a large majority of residents in the port area – there is no room at all. Ultimately, the offer of the silt fields was accepted by the residents, and many have currently relocated there, though they hope the move will be temporary.

There was a last-ditch attempt against the evacuation by the ADM reisdents, who appealed for a ruling from the UN human rights committee to allow them, as a community, to stay on the ground. The UN ruled that the municipality must first explain how it could secure the human rights of the 130 inhabitants, before proceeding with the evacuation. The municipality, however, believes that the alternative offered to the residents in Noord meets the requirements stipulated, such as electricity, water and sanitary facilities, and that the UN committee must explain why this is not satisfactory. Also against the compromise with the squatters was Marianne Poot of the VVD. She called on the ADM residents to respect the court’s ruling and to take responsibility for their housing. ‘It is not a right to live in Amsterdam,’ she said, ‘take responsibility and look for a house.’ Zeeger Ernsting of GroenLinks took great umbrage with Poot’s words, concluding that she did not see the ADM squatters as ‘Amsterdammers’.

The original deadline for the evacuation was Christmas Day 2018, but on the day it became clear that the site had not been cleared. Journalists were prevented from entering the site, but they could tell that the plot was still full of caravans, buses and trucks. In order to make a possible eviction by the municipality more difficult, tractors had also been parked across the entrance. There was still hope for a peaceful evacuation though, and a spokesperson for Mayor Femke Halsema said on the day that “if there are already [police] agents, this is in support of the enforcers, and we will still try to come to an evacuation in consultation with the squatters, preferably in the short term, and we hope they will leave voluntarily.’

On 7 January, security personnel, police and riot police removed fifty squatters from the ADM site, who had not complied with the evacuation order. Eleven of them were arrested because they deliberately did not comply with an order, according to a spokesperson for the Amsterdam police. The ADM residents raised the point that they had not been informed in advance of the day of evacuation, and saw this as ‘both in violation of the rules of conduct and in violation of the agreements that the municipality made with us.’ They continued: ‘We are perplexed that the Dutch state deals with its citizens in such a way. It shows that groups of citizens have been identified in the Netherlands who are not entitled to the universal human rights, and citizens who are thwarted if they make use of Dutch law.’ Although, according to the police, the evacuation was ‘quiet’, many of the detained had been held in cages and in one of the halls on the site. There were reports that a huge amount of rubbish was left behind by the ADM community. This included deserted caravans, a lot of plastic waste and metals. The municipality is currently paying the costs of the clean-up, although they may be later recovered from the squatters. The ADM site has now been transferred to the owners. They have hired private security guards to ensure that the site is not entered again by ADM residents or other squatters.

Commenting on the immediate demolition of the site, which began after the evacuation, the former ADM residents put out an emotional press release. They commented that the ‘municipality of Amsterdam condones a large-scale destruction of the ADM community’. They noted that ‘the majority of the homes, properties and workshops belonging to our community, ADM, were destroyed by third parties’. They also continue to claim that ‘the evacuation under administrative coercion carried out by the municipality of Amsterdam is not only contrary to international law and the UN interim measure to which the Netherlands is obliged (including the Vienna Convention on Treaties article 26), but was also an unjustified execution of an eviction under administrative coercion as mentioned in our national law.’ What will happen to the ADM community remains to be seen, but its residents have certainly not given up hope of a return to their land.