Fighting a war on immigrants?

13th November 2003, Comments 0 comments

There is something about the surface fix, single-mindedness of Dutch policies in relation to immigration and asylum that has a similar flavour and texture to the US war on drugs, and sometimes appears to stigmatise immigrants and asylum seekers in an

Recent statistics show that 48 percent of immigrants living in the Netherlands believe there are too many immigrants, a view backed by 65 percent of the native Dutch.

If it were only as simple as too many people in a small space, perhaps the answers could be simpler too. But the statistical question of how many people can be sustained within any given geographic area is far more complex to answer. At play are a heady brew of societal influences that can have an impact on pure statistics: attitudes to race, new cultures, pressures like unemployment and inflation, feelings of security and participation, and the ability of support structures to function – to name just a few.

The statistics quoted above can also show the way the issues are being oversimplified by both the Government and the bulk of the media. The attitude appears to be: if we don't talk about it too much, or look at the issues too critically, we can avoid challenging often hidden, preconceived notions that are simply easier to recycle and reinforce.

There are also reports that suggest that life for "legal" immigrants is getting easier and the feelings of personal discrimination are dropping. But, the gap between those on the inside looking out and those on the outside looking in, is getting very wide.

In an effort to begin to understand these issues, seven questions were posed to the following political parties: Labour PvdA, the Christian Democrat CDA, Democrat D66, Lijst Pim Fortuyn (LPF), and for the voice of those directly affected; the Association of Refugee Organisations VON.

The CDA and D66 are currently in a coalition government with the Liberal VVD party and are involved in shaping the current get-tough policies on immigration. However, representatives of the two parties failed, for one reason or another, to answer the questions.

The main opposition party, Labour PvdA, also dodged the issue, citing a sick press office for its inability to reply despite being given a month to do so. The reluctance of the three parties to discuss the issue is dealt with in an earlier feature entitled "a not so divine comedy."

 Erik Schreijen of the populist LPF party, founded by murdered anti-immigration populist Pim Fortuyn, did respond, as Peter Abspoel of the Dutch Association of Refugee Organisations VON.

MR: Do you believe that the increasing number of immigrants/newcomers/refugees is fundamentally changing the nature of Dutch society? If so, give examples.

LPF: Yes, we do think so. You only have to point out the bad position of a lot of women in Islamic families to see that. Recently, a Turkish girl was shot by her father because she had dated a boy. We have imported these customs as a result of immigration of a lot of people from culturally-backward countries.

Because of that Holland is now confronted with problems we thought we got rid of: suppressing and beating of women, discrimination of homosexuals, etc.

VON: It is certain that among parts of the native Dutch population attitudes towards newcomers have changed. The influx of newcomers is in itself changing the composition of the Dutch population.

I think the determining factor here, and the relatively new phenomenon, is the fear for the consequences of globalization. This is rationalized by pointing out differences in culture, and especially religion that could lead to clashes or tensions. But I think that behind it all, is the fear that the West is not able to maintain a worldwide proletariat.

UN Treaties and agreements, such as the Geneva Convention, stress the importance of providing basic care and humane treatment, as well as basic human rights, for all people. The Netherlands, along with other European countries, has signed these agreements which all share the criteria that asylum seekers are people first and seeking asylum second. Many of the Refugee Organisations, including Human Rights Watch, claim that

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