How did you show you valued us in your hour of need during Covid-19 Lockdown?

Personal Reflections from a Shadow Domestic Worker in The Netherlands

by Jacob Apostol

Shadow of a real life

It was February 27 2020, when I received a call from a friend while I was at work. It was about the news of the first case of corona virus infection in the Netherlands. The news was particularly disturbing for me, and, of course, for the rest of the population in the Netherlands. That moment, I felt a sense of apprehension, thinking about what’s to come once the corona virus spread in the country. At first, I tried to appease myself with a thought that this might be another example of fake news or disinformation being circulated in the community during this pandemic crisis.

Upon hearing it, the image of my family suddenly flashed in my mind. Feeling more worried, I started asking myself these questions, pounding in my brain: “What if this is true?” “What will happen to my family if I acquire the virus and cannot work?” “How can I support them?” “What would the Dutch government do to contain the virus?” “Would they implement stringent measures that might worsen our situation as undocumented migrants?” These questions kept bothering me while I was doing my work. To clear the doubt in my mind, I quickly got my mobile phone from my pocket and scrolled down the latest news on the internet. Finally I found one from a Dutch news and information site for expatriats I Am Expat!

When this first victim was confirmed, I was certain beyond doubt that the Dutch government would soon impose a lock down akin to Italy or Spain to contain the coronavirus outbreak. And after two weeks, lockdown in the Netherlands happened!  

Like the rest of the country, government lockdown left me no other choice but to stay most of every day within the four walls of my small room which served as my comfort zone for more than two months. In my darkest hours, only my books were my best companions while I was battling fear, anxiety and the boredom of life. On the other hand, lockdown also offered me a rare opportunity to find a good reason to contemplate our meaningful struggles. In solace, I discovered more about human nature, society and the world around me. Truly this crisis has shown me the best as well as the worst in human beings and in governments.

It’s hard to imagine that I could experience in my lifetime a pandemic crisis as ferocious as this one – the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. This has not only brought the global economy to recession, but has also claimed hundreds of thousands of human lives around the world.

As the coronavirus became global, the Dutch government on March 15 began to take more drastic action to contain its spread in the country by imposing a lockdown. On that same day, I along with thousands of undocumented domestic workers across the Netherlands who lost their jobs also began our battle for survival amid the pandemic.

From my point of view, lockdown was the most logical measure the Dutch government could take in the face of the coronavirus outbreak. We had to support this to save more lives as the coronavirus continued preying on the most vulnerable groups. Of course, I also felt bothered by the new reality that lockdown would cause – a severe impact on the situation of thousands of undocumented people like me who have lacked protection of the law.

While other sectors such as businesses, regular workers, contractors and the self-employed, among others, received help from the government with new measures designed to keep them surviving amid the lockdown, we did not. It seemed ironic that undocumented domestic workers in the Netherlands lost their jobs due to Covid-19 and were being left behind during the crisis despite their significant contributions to Dutch society. Remember, we domestic workers clean your houses so others have time to build this country.  We also take care of your children so that this country will have a future.  More than this, we hold the frail arms of your elderly parents so that they have more time to enjoy the fruits of your labors!

Now, how did you show that you valued us in our hours of greatest need?