VVD Minister refuses to extend asylum pardon
9 February 2004
AMSTERDAM — Immigration and Integration Minister Rita Verdonk refused on Monday to extend an amnesty granted to about 2,300 refugees as she defiantly defended her decision to deport 26,000 others over the next three years.
The minister said expanding the scope of the government’s amnesty would attract more asylum seekers into the Netherlands. This would come after the government tightened its asylum policy several years ago, greatly reducing the number of asylum applicants.
And to remove a backlog of cases from the immigration service IND, the government recently granted residence permits to 2,300 people as it announced its massive deportation plan. Strong political and public criticism has greeted the plans and 2,500 people protested in front of Parliament on Monday.
After MPs had gathered for the crunch debate, the Socialist Party (SP) demanded that Verdonk agree on a general pardon for asylum seekers who have been in the Netherlands for five years or more. The green-left GroenLinks and small Christian party ChristenUnie backed the demand.
But main opposition party Labour PvdA urged the embattled minister to accept the advice of the foreigner affairs commission, which had advised Verdonk to reassess the dossiers of asylum seekers who have waited five years or more for a final decision on their asylum request.
The commission said Verdonk should assess the dossiers by looking for humanitarian cases, such as sick people who could not expect adequate healthcare if forced to return to their homeland, public news service NOS reported.
In regards the group of asylum seekers who have been in the Netherlands seven years or longer, the commission said Minister Verdonk should be charitable if there were children set to be deported. It said the depth of integration of these families in Dutch society should be the deciding factor.
The general pardon presently only applies to people who have been waiting at least five years for a definitive answer on their first asylum request. The depth of integration is not part of the criteria.
The commission supports Verdonk’s stance that the general pardon should not be extended, but asserts that clemency should be granted on a case-by-case basis.
During the debate in the Lower House of Parliament, the Tweede Kamer, government parties the Christian Democrat CDA and the Liberal VVD have expressed their support of the VVD minister’s asylum policy.
CDA MP Wim van Fessem asked the minister about the possibility of judging more asylum seekers to be “distressing cases” so that they can also be allowed to remain in the Netherlands based on the assessment criteria. He said a special test would ensure carefulness.
In announcing her deportation policy, Verdonk said 220 asylum seekers had been judged to be “distressing cases”. But government coalition partner Democrat D66 also believes it is possible that more asylum seekers can be assessed as a “distressing case”.
But an extension of the scope of the amnesty does not appear likely. A CDA, VVD, populist LPF and D66 majority remains in favour of a restricted pardon.
MPs have demanded that families are not separated, children are not detained and that adequate methods will be used to determine who cannot return to their home country, news agency ANP reported.
Parliament has also demanded answers about what will happen if asylum seekers do not return to their home country within the 16-week period agreed to once they are detained in deportation centres.
But in an agreement reached with the Dutch association of municipalities, VNG, last week, Minister Verdonk said such asylum seekers will be remanded in foreigner detention centres after the 16-week period. They will thus not end up on the street as previously feared.
Meanwhile, public support for the amnesty and deportation policy has risen to 61 percent according to a Maurice De Hond survey. Support for the policy had fallen last week from 65 to 55 percent.
[Copyright Expatica News 2004]
Subject: Dutch news + Asylum