PM backs Rotterdam in immigrant row
2 December 2003
AMSTERDAM — Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende has backed Rotterdam’s controversial fight against the build up of underprivileged immigrant residents, but Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk criticised some of the harbour city’s daring proposals, which include a ban on poor foreigners from settling in the city.
The Prime Minister said Rotterdam is facing enormous difficulties due to the rise of problem neighbourhoods and he said he understood why they city wished to spark public discussion about the issue. “This suits a no-words-but-actions city,” he said.
Rotterdam hopes to prevent underprivileged immigrants from moving to the port city by refusing housing to anyone who does not earn at least 20 percent above the minimum income level. It also plans to seek a temporary exemption from accepting asylum seeker residents.
The city is concerned it will become the receptacle for the nation’s underprivileged and the executive council unveiled on Monday a plan of action designed to improve the city’s social climate.
It intends to prevent jobless people from moving to Rotterdam and make it more difficult for residents to bring to the city a migrant partner from their land of origin. The action plan aims to create a better spread of migrants across Rotterdam and force public housing corporations ensure more low-income earners are housed in “better” neighbourhoods.
“The reason is that we want to bring old neighbourhoods in the city back into balance. Colour is not important. This is to do with neighbourhoods in balance and a city in balance,” Mayor Ivo Opstelten said.
But Immigration Minister Verdonk said some of the plans were unrealistic, indicating that it was not possible to allow only integrated immigrants to move to the city. Furthermore, Rotterdam cannot refuse entry to recognised refugees or people who have been granted a residence permit, NOS reported.
Some proposals were part of a policy package she was currently preparing though and Verdonk also accepted that Rotterdam had a good point in trying to restrict the free flow of underprivileged people to the city. She promised to further examine certain proposals, ANP reported.
Interior Minister Johan Remkes said the Cabinet recognised Rotterdam was experiencing problems due to its growing number of underprivileged residents. During a visit to the harbour city, the minister also said the Cabinet would seriously assess the executive council’s proposals.
The Christian Democrat CDA parliamentary leader Maxime Verhagen and Democrat D66 leader Boris Dittrich reacted positively to Rotterdam’s plans to set income level conditions on housing allocations. But the smaller opposition parties, such as the Socialist Party and green-left GroenLinks, were critical.
Main opposition party, Labour PvdA, was also critical. “You must not put a fence around Rotterdam. Instead, work together with surrounding municipalities in spreading underprivileged groups,” MP Jeroen Dijsselbloem said.
Rotterdam Mayor Opstelten said the action plan was not designed as an example to other cities, but other large cities immediately cast doubt on the harbour city’s plans. The Hague Urban Development and Housing Alderman Arend Hilhorst doubted if a greater spread of underprivileged people would solve the problems.
The Rotterdam branches of the CDA and VVD were more positive about the plans and have confirmed that they must not turn into a “migrant stop”. The CDA and VVD are the minority parties of the city’s executive council.
Right-wing Liveable Rotterdam (LR) — which won the March 2002 council elections in Rotterdam with anti-immigrant politician Pim Fortuyn still at the helm before his May 2002 shooting murder — holds the upper hand. LR has applauded the council’s action plan.
Rotterdam has long debated the continuing influx of immigrants and a better spread of underprivileged immigrants is a key component of the council’s battle against the rise of “problem” neighbourhoods.
An Intomart survey in August found that 62 percent of residents supported restricting the number of immigrants allowed to live in the city. That survey came after research bureau COS predicted the proportion of immigrants would grow to 58 percent of Rotterdam’s total population by 2017, compared with 46 percent last year.
[Copyright Expatica News 2003]
Subject: Dutch news