Influx of Chinese asylum seekers stirs Dutch politics
Recently, in the space of just a few weeks and without warning, hundreds of Chinese immigrants asking for asylum appeared in a few small towns near the Dutch border with Germany. By political editor John Tyler.
Recently, in the space of just a few weeks and without warning, hundreds of Chinese immigrants asking for asylum appeared in a few small towns near the Dutch border with Germany. The flow has now stopped, with 850 Chinese registering for asylum over a period of three weeks. Before the influx, the average number of Chinese registering for asylum in this country stood at two or three per week.
Needless to say, local authorities were puzzled. Where were these immigrants coming from? They did not fit the usual patterns of people smugglers, and there were unusually few families. Many of them even spoke some Dutch, although they wouldn't readily admit it.
Eventually, a story emerged. A rumour was doing the rounds in the Chinese community in the Netherlands that Queen Beatrix would abdicate the throne on April 30th, Queen's Day. When Crown Prince Willem Alexander became King, so the rumour went, he would grant a general pardon for those who had already asked for asylum.
No one knows the source of the rumour. When the Queen turned 70 in January, some wondered if she would follow the example of her own mother, and announce her upcoming abdication on her birthday. She did not, and the speculation in mainstream circles ended.
But it seems the succession idea took root in the Chinese community, and was embellished by the idea of a general pardon under the new King. There is no precedent in Dutch history for such a pardon. The recent pardon of 27,000 asylum seekers took place under extremely unusual political circumstances, and is not likely to be repeated.
Authorities take for granted that the rumour is the reason hundreds of Chinese immigrants already living in the Netherlands are pretending to be recently arrived asylum seekers. The numbers have strained the capacity to house and process the asylum requests. Many have been put up temporarily, some in a recreation park, but politicians say the problems have exposed deficiencies in emergency procedures.
Members of parliament called the Deputy Justice Minister responsible for immigration, Nebahat Albayrak, to the lower house for an emergency debate about the Chinese asylum seekers. Mrs Albayrak said the 850 were being processed as quickly as possible, and the Justice Ministry would begin deportation procedures for all those refused asylum. But she said it was not possible under current Dutch law to place all the immigrants in administrative detention.
Many MPs pointed out that his will effectively mean many, if not most, of the 850 would return to living illegally in the Netherlands. In the past deportation to their home country of Chinese refused asylum has proven difficult, partly due to lack of passports or any form of identification. In addition, the Dutch government does not round up illegals. An estimated 250,000 people live illegally in the Netherlands, mostly in the big cities in the west. Residing in the Netherlands illegally is not actually against Dutch law. Once these immigrants return to their lives here in the Netherlands, they will be difficult to trace.
The right-wing laid the blame for the sudden influx squarely on the general pardon granted to 27,000 asylum seekers last year. They claim the amnesty created a precedent, which has resulted in more asylum seekers coming to the Netherlands. Green Left MP Naima Azough doesn't agree. "After the debate I almost thought it was a rumour started by right-wing politicians because they have so much to gain by saying again and again that this pardon that we had last year creates more people coming in, and that's nonsense, it's untrue." Administrative detention.
The Conservative VVD party is one of the strongest critics of last year's general pardon. VVD MP Henk Kamp was one of the MPs calling for the current influx of Chinese immigrants to be held in administrative detention until they can be deported. He also doesn't know the source of the rumour that seems to have created this incident, so do the Chinese immigrants know something we don't know about the imminent royal succession?
"I don't think so. I don't know it myself, I think in the far future there will be a moment for Willem Alexander. But we have to wait for that. I don't think we'll give these Chinese people the opportunity to wait for that." In the end, it appears the Chinese influx in a few small Dutch towns will have little long-term effect. But politicians in The Hague were able yet again to air their displeasure with the regulations regarding illegal immigration.
10 April 2008
[Copyright Radio Netherlands]