Letter from the Netherlands

Letter from the Netherlands


Written by: Liz Cross

A contributor to the IRR’s European Race Audit writes on recent developments in the Netherlands.

Dear IRR,

‘The party here in the Netherlands just keeps on getting better and better. Just when I thought I had heard it all, along comes immigration minister Rita Verdonk’s newest brain child. Regional police forces in the Netherlands can now earn extra money by catching illegal immigrants. There will literally be a price put on their heads. Regional police forces can sign a contract that they will arrest a certain number of illegal immigrants and if they reach their targets, the forces will receive extra money.

Recently, prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende made a speech saying how good everything was going in the Netherlands. Why were people still whining and what had happened to the spirit of the VOC, he asked. Now we know! In case you don’t know, the VOC was the Dutch East India Company, a trading company that had its heyday in the 17th and 18th centuries, basically by going to Indonesia, South India, etc robbing the people blind and slaughtering them en masse if they dared to object. During the same period, the Dutch were blazing a trail in the slave trade. As in all slave colonies, bounty hunters to track down runaway slaves were part and parcel of life in the Dutch West Indian colonies. So, with Verdonk’s new bounty hunters, the Dutch now have a golden opportunity to re-enact the glories of their colonial past.

To be fair to the Dutch, however, a lot of people have reacted to this idea with horror. It has also reawakened painful memories of the role played by the Dutch police in the second world war, when policemen were paid 7.50 guilders for every Jew they captured. Many people find it highly distasteful that, once more, Dutch police will be paid to capture people who will then be detained and may be deported.

A lot of people are criticising the plan on the grounds that it is unworkable. They ask, what are you supposed to do with these people after you have caught them anyway? There are certainly not enough places to put them. Another centre for asylum seekers has been shut down, this time in Leiden, because it does not comply with fire safety regulations. It was only last month that the ministers of justice and housing resigned after a damning report by the Independent Safety Standards Council into the circumstances of the fire at the immigration removal centre at Schiphol Airport which found that the building did not comply with health and safety regulations. Ceiling tiles were flammable – allowing fire to spread; skylights did not work so smoke could build up, none of the necessary periodic monitoring controls had been made and there was no plan in case of an emergency.

Something has gone badly wrong in the Netherlands. In my opinion, the climate of fear and insecurity caused by the fall out of 9/11 and economic instability have created a climate where populist politicians and unscrupulous journalists can flourish by making hard, ill-advised statements on immigration and integration. The results have been literally fatal for some people.

After years of this, however, I sense the beginnings of change. People who never worried much about politics before are horrified that children of asylum seekers are being imprisoned alongside their parents and more people are becoming aware of the basic inhumanity of the treatment of asylum seekers under the Balkenende government. The second Balkenende government collapsed after D66, one of their coalition partners, refused to collaborate any more with Rita Verdonk after the Hirsi Ali affair. General elections are being held this month and I can only hope that Dutch voters send this shameful government home for good.’

Liz Cross is a translator and interpreter who has lived in Amsterdam since 1988.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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