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The fairy tale of the Dutch tolerant society and the humane asylum-policy

by Astrid Essed Saturday, Feb. 05, 2005 at 8:20 PM

In contrarily with the general allegations in American and Western newsmedia, not only the Netherlands is no open society for minorities, moreover the Dutch asylum-policy is violating gravely international humanitarian principles.

The fairy tale of the Dutch tolerant society and the humane asylum-policy

As many readers shall know, the commonly accepted international image of the Netherlands being a tolerant and open society has been largerly changed by the growing anti-moslim climate after the 11 september attacks.
Especially after the murder of the cineast van Gogh there was a still worse intensification of this dangerous climate, which has lead to more than 194 terroristic assaults against Mosques and islamic schools.
Lesser known however is the fact that the also widespread image of a humane Dutch asylum policy is in sharp contrast with the political reality.

A Controversial asylum measures before the ministerial period of minister Verdonk:

Although the appointment dd 27-5-2003 of minister Verdonk of Alien Affairs and Integration and her ensuing measures [policy] have led to grave violations of the human rights of a growing number of asylum-seekers, it is of great importance to point out clearly that in contrary to the widespread idea of the Dutch humanitarian policy regarding asylum-seekers, also before mrs Verdonks access the Dutch asylum-policy has been characterized by a number of serious breaches of International Law.

1 Accelerated asylum-procedures and the treatment of children:

From 1994, the AC procedure was being introduced, an accelerated method, by which the IND [Immigration-Department] officials had to make a decision between 48 hours [practically within three days] after two interviews with the asylum-seeker, whether an asylum-request was rejected or the request was being transferred to the regular asylum procedure which guaranteed a thourough investigation, since the decision-time varied from a couple of weeks until more than a year.
Although this AC procedure was initially used only in extraordinary cases, since 2002 it was used in more than 60 percent of the asylum-requests, which involves also people who had fled from unsafe countries.
Seen in the light of the quickly taken decisions and the fact that the decision-grounds were uncontrollable because of the required absence of a lawyer, this put an enlarged danger on sending people back to unsafe countries, which is strictly forbidden according to International Law.

2 Treatment of children:

Also worrying was the treatment of unacompanied child-asylum-seekers in general, especialy children under twelve years.
According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the Netherlands have ratified in 1995, every child is entitled to special care and protection, especially from States and their institutions.
Notwithstanding those international obligations the Dutch Council of State held in februari 2002, that the Convention was not appliable on children whose parents have no rights to remain in the Netherlands.
This apparent violation of international humanitarian standards had as a dangerous consequence, that 30 percent of the child-asylum-seekers are being placed in the AC procedure without consideration for their protected status being a child.
Not only all children should have unconditional access to the regular asylum procedure, due to their vulnerability being a child in a strange country, they have a right to special protection such as the presence of a lawyer by each interogation by the IND and a good medical and personal guidance.
Although there is a legal assistance for unaccompanied children by the child protection agency NIDOS, this is only permitted when children are seriously traumatized, which of course is not unadequate to protect the rights of all children.

3 Violation of the basic-needs of asylum-seekers:

Another serious violation of the rights of asylum-seekers stemmed from the fact, that asylum-seekers, awaiting an appeal after an initial rejection of their application in the accelerated AC procedure, have no right to material reception benefits, including basic shelter like housing or social and medical support provisions, unless they are too ill to travel to their country of origin or have an infant under the age of one year.
This is contarily with the Dutch international obligations according the International Covenant on Economical, Social and Cultural Rights, which emphazises "the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing'', regardless of the status of the groups involved.

Despite international protests of several Dutch and international religious and human rights organisations however, the Dutch government didn't review these measures with all humanitarian consequences as such.

B The return policy of minister Verdonk as a grave violation of International Law:

At 27-5 2003 the right wing liberal mrs Verdonk was assigned as a minister of Integration and Alien Affairs.
The consequences of her assigment was a considerable detoriation of the already existing asylum-rules, which led to an alarming threat to the human rights and safety of a considerable group of asylum-seekers.
Based on the ''Returnmemoramdum'' which she presented in november 2003, she decided in january 2004 that 26.000 asylum-seekers, from whom their appeal had been rejected, would be expelled within three years, with an exception for 2300 asylumseekers, who were permitted to stay in the Netherlands under an amnesty program, based on appaling humanitarian grounds.
At february 9th the Dutch parliament granted her plans.
Despite the claims by the Dutch government referring the safety and humanity of the measures of minister Verdonk, the underlying facts tell the opposite.

1 Dutch bureaucracy and the unsafe return-situation:

The main injustice of this plan was based on two points
In the first place it referred to a great group of refugees, who due to an inefficient asylum process often have waited for years, thus building a working and living existence in the Netherlands, which suddenly would be uprooted.
More seriously however was the fact, that a considerable number of refugees were sent back to their original countries where there was an apparent possibility of threat to their freedom or safety.
This included especially Somalians and Afghans, since in geat parts of their country there is still an unsafe situation, partly due to civil war or the lack of a strong central governmemnt.
This has been also confimed by several reports, stemming from the UN-secratary General Kofi Annan and the UN-High Commmissionar for Refugees, the former Dutch ex-minister president Lubbers.
But also expulsion to other countries put a great risk for asylum-seekers, for example Liberians and Chenchens, according to the appaling human rights situation in their respective countries, due to the war.

Not only the expulsion of Chenchens and Liberians hasn't stopped despite the great safety-risk, also the solution of minister Verdonk, to expell Chenchens to Russia in stead of the unsafe Chenchenya, in order to enlarge their safety, makes no sense.
In the first place the human right situation in Russia itself is very precarious too, in the second place due to the anti-Chenchen-feelings stemming from officials and the common public, the life of those people is in danger in Russia also.

2 Dutch non-refoulement obligation:

By endangering the lives of the refugees in sending them back to humanitarian-unsafe situations, the Dutch governmental autorities are not only acting inhumanely, moreover they violate seriously their international judicial obligation on non-refoulement, which means the strictly prohibition to send refugees back to countries or parts of countries where their life or safety is being threatened.
This prohibition on refoulement is internationally confirmed by article 3 of the ECHR [European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms], article 33 of The Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the United Nations Convention against Torture.

a Regarding Somalia:

In spite of the fact, that the European Court of Human Rights has prevented in a number of times the expulsion of Somalians and that several Somalians have been arrested after arrival in Somalia, the Dutch government has to heretho refused to change her expulsion-[policy regarding Somalian refugees.

b Afghanistan en Liberia:

Startling is also the argumentation of minister Verdonk, that although her recognition of the unsafe situation in Afghanistan and Liberia, she yet continues the expulsion-policy regarding Afghans and Liberians because this is also being done by other European countries.
Obviously she is holding the wrong assumption, that grave breaches of International Law are permitted when done also by other countries, which is contarily with the international judicial rule, that the one illegal deed is no excuse whatsoever for another illegal deed.

Being a minister, who is responsible for the maintainance of the human rights of the asylum-seekers in the Netherlands, her above ventilated point of view is highly condemnable.

3 Dutch protests:

It is not surprising, that those measures of minister Verdonk have led to strong Dutch protests, not only from the side of Dutch refugee and human rights organisations, the Churches and the leftist political parties, but also from the majority of the Dutch public, who was especially indignated by the expulsion of asylum-seekers, who lived and worked in the Netherlands for a considerable time, so giving fheir contribution to the Dutch economy.
Also many Dutch city and village municipilities were in conflict with minister Verdonk, since the rejected asylum-seekers had no rights whatsoever on food, shelter and medical assistence, which is not only contarily with international Treaties, but placed municipilities also in the impossible situation, whether to ignore the measures of Verdonk and prepare for alternative food and shelter-possibilities, or to answer to an utterly inhumane governmental policy.
Among the strongest political criticians of the measures of minister Verdonk however was the former Dutch minister of Development Aid, the present Special UN-envoy regarding Darfur, Jan Pronk, who called the measures of Verdonk deportations.

Seen in the light of the massality and indiscriminative character of the expulsions with no regard whatsoever of the safety of the countries involved, it seems an appropriate description of those measures.
It is evident however, that mrs Verdonk was'n't pleased with those remarks and demanded excuses, which Pronk was not willing to do.

4 International protests

International protests were especially uttered by the UN and international human rights organisations as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Especially Human Rights Watch wrote a thourough report about the practices of the AC procedures and the humanitarian implications in the refugees.

C Moral standards:

Yet apart from her obvious illegal asylum-policy, mrs Verdonk recently draw public attention with her controversial uttering of sympathy for a woman, who dd 17-1 killed a Moroccan boy, who had stolen her bag.
In reaction to that she by pursued him by car in backward direction with all fatal consequences.
Although it is evident, that streetrobbery is a crime and has to be punished proportionnally, it is of course not legitimate to take an irresponsible risk with the life of any human being by riding backwards without controlling the sight on the traffic situation, which has been admitted by the woman in question, against whom recently a judicial investigation is started.

Yet apart from the fact, that a minister has to abstain from a judgment about current law-procedures, by this remark she was also suggesting to hold a plea for the legally forbidden use of violence between civilians without the legally admitted self-defense situation.
Not only this showed a considerable lack of moral standards, it is evident, that she being also minister of Integration [responsible for the well-being of Dutch minorities] was not playing a responsible role, since the tragic death of the Moroccon boy led to a renewal of the tensions between the Dutch original population and the Moroccon minority.
Since this relationship is already seriously detoriated after the murder of van Gogh and the ensuing terroristic attacks on islamic schools and Mosques, it would have been wise, when the minister of Inregration had abstained from any comment regarding the tragic death of the Moroccan boy, who stays a human being with a right on life, thief or not.

It is highly recommendable when minister Verdonk by the practice of her ministerial task not only shows more respect for the right on life of everybody, regardless of his criminal state, which has been guaranteed in article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but especially will base her asylum-policy on one of the most crucial principles of human rights legislation, that each refugee has a right on a safe living place and only can be expelled when his return-situation is safe and humane.

Astrid Essed
The Netherlands

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