Holland gets tough on asylum seekers - expels thousands in surprise move

February 19, 2004

Volkert van der G. convicted of killing gay Dutch right-wing politician Pim Fortuyn
AFP EPA/ANP/Vincent Jannink
THE HAGUE — The Dutch parliament's decision to approve the expulsion of 26,000 asylum seekers has tarnished the country's tolerant image amid signs of a hardening stance against immigration by nearly all political parties.

On Tuesday lawmakers passed a bill calling for the ejection of thousands of asylum seekers, many of whom have lived in the country for years, despite strong opposition from the public and human rights groups.

Having opened its doors to thousands of Jews expelled from Spain in the late 15th century and a century later to French Protestants (Huguenots) fleeing the religious wars in their homeland, the Netherlands has earned a reputation as an open, tolerant country.

But this image has been dented by the new legislation under which thousands of asylum seekers will be forcibly returned to their home countries within the next three years, even if they have been living in the country for some time.

The rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the bill was a "deportation law violating international standards" and warned that it "would signal a serious departure from the Netherlands' historic role as a leader in human rights protection in Europe."

Church groups point out that some of the asylum seekers have been in this country for more than 10 years awaiting official processing of their requests and have fully integrated in Dutch society.

The bill has deeply divided Dutch society – where gay marriages are permitted and marijuana is widely decriminalised – and set the government and opposition at loggerheads in a system reknowned for consensus.

The government has defended its tougher stance by saying the measure is clearly outlined in the manifesto of the ruling Christian Democrats, pointing out that Dutch voters had given the party a slight majority in the January 2003 election over the Labour party.

Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk insists that the government is pursuing a "humane" policy and said authorities were processing all asylum requests with great care.

Passage of the bill comes as virtually all political parties have hardened their stance on immigration and security since the meteoric rise of anti-immigrant politician Pim Fortuyn, assassinated in May 2002 just days before elections.

Fortuyn's assassination, the first political murder in the Netherlands since World War II, has had a major impact on the political landscape and brought to the fore issues that were previously taboo, such as the potentially negative effects of immigration.

Nearly 19 percent of the Dutch population of 16 million is of foreign stock, with sizable contributions from Turkey ((340,000), Suriname (320,000) and Morocco (295,000).

"There was a hardening of society. the September 11 (2001) attacks (in the United States) played a role by creating the feeling 'the Third World' is attacking us," said Jean Tillie, a political scientist at Amsterdam University. "Fear is projected on immigrants who can bring in new habits."

The tougher Dutch stance on immigration mirrors similar moves in Denmark, another northern-European country known for its tolerance.

On Tuesday Copenhagen said it would change its already tough immigration laws to increase fines for people aiding failed asylum seekers. –Sapa-AFP

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Dutch gays publish marriage manual to counter Vatican campaign [25/08/2003]



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