Life as a non-native in the Netherlands: Nederland voor Nederlanders?

Life as a non-native in the Netherlands: Nederland voor Nederlanders?

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Expat Rhiannon Meredith questions what is happening to the 'Dutch openness and tolerance' as she observes that politicians and policymakers seem 'sadly focused on the negative impact of immigration.'

Throughout the world, the Netherlands has fostered a reputation for its openness and tolerance, illustrated by many of its liberal social policies.

Lately, it seems these times are a-changing and in the realm of immigration, the door is no longer wide open to all immigrants and expats. The comments by Expatica readers posted below a recent Expatica Expat Voices interview with Pakistani expat, Jehanzeb Khan, made me pause and think about the changes in policy and perception of foreigners in Dutch society and whether Nederland is really just for the ‘Nederlanders’.

Across Western Europe, the rise of the political right in government is apparent: the economic crisis, opening of EU borders and the effects of an ageing population are key issues having a direct effect on national policies towards immigration. At a political conference in Germany last year, Angela Merkel highlighted the ‘failure of multiculturalism’ and poor integration of the foreign workers and their families who were invited to work in Germany in the 1960s and 70s.

The Netherlands has similar issues with immigration and integration, with a quick look at the country’s demographics showing that just less than 20 percent of the country has non-Dutch ethnic origins. As a non-native Dutch resident for the last six years, the change in political debate and media headlines in this, my adopted country are showing small but worrying trends.

PHOTO © zoetnet

 People in the stadshart, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands

And it seems I’m not alone in noticing this: as an inhabitant of the Netherlands for the last 11 years, Jehanzeb Khan1 voiced his unhappiness about the recent changing attitudes he finds towards immigrants and the “supporting (of) political slogans and a racist agenda”. In just the last two months, the Dutch home affairs minister, Henk Kamp has proposed to deport Poles who lose their jobs, and the latest offensive diatribe from the PVV’s Geert Wilders is to build ‘tuig dorpjes’ to house persistent offenders and their families. Given the statistics showing a high proportion of crime committed by Dutch youth is of Moroccan origin, it’s not difficult to see who this last policy would affect3.

At what point do these political sound-bites become government policy? Or are the media just cherry-picking these politicians’ comments to generate a frenzy of activity in the general population concerning nationality and Dutch identity? When it comes to expats and immigrants, it seems that there are touches of an Orwellian society creeping into the Netherlands, where “All immigrants are equal but some are more equal than others”. It may seem a distant part of European history but a stark reminder of the rise of nationalism can be seen at Het Verzetsmuseum in Amsterdam.

Compare the political rhetoric and later propaganda about migrants and Jews during the economic gloom of the 1930s across Europe with today’s headlines about Islam or Moroccan immigrants and the similarity is disturbing. Migrants were blamed for problems of unemployment, housing shortages and social unrest. Whilst Europe has not yet reverted back to this dark period in its history, the issues of immigration and integration hang in a precarious balance. Like other western governments, the Netherlands is now publicly debating the effects of immigration and the impact upon society of having invited foreign workers to occupy the jobs the native Dutch population would not or could not fill. The short-term economic gain of immigration from the last few decades are bearing long-term consequences, which have been largely ignored or tackled ineffectively it seems. And so the Dutch government should be debating the issues of immigration in the present day, but with a clear awareness of the past when migrants were welcomed to these lowlands, and actively encouraged to contribute to the economy of the Netherlands.

As a European migrant in Amsterdam, I find the subject of race and nationality to be a somewhat sensitive topic. It seems to be a common theme, with the crass replies to Mr Khan’s Expat Voices last month, including one telling him to “pack your bags and return to Talebanistan”1.   From dual-nationality to different names of referral for ‘buitenlanders’ or ‘allochtonen’, it can be difficult to talk about such important issues with friends or colleagues.

AFP PHOTO Maartje Blijdenstein

 Netherlands, Amsterdam : Youngsters chat in a street of the Slotervaart neighborhood in Amsterdam

In my native UK, criticism and debate of one’s own culture, politics and less appealing aspects of daily life is common, and is rarely interpreted as being unpatriotic or unappreciative of British culture. At what point am I permitted to voice any criticism of this, my host country? Should I heed the old proverb that warns “not to bite the hand that feeds you”? As an expat who chose to come to this country, it is all too reasonable that if my criticisms become too great and the appeal of the Netherlands has faded, I should take my trade and skills elsewhere. But for many migrants, relocation to another country is not such a simple matter of choice and their voice of critical opinion over their adopted homeland is a valid one.

As I see it, whether expat or immigrant in name, a foreigner working and living in the Netherlands has a contribution to make to the constantly-evolving notion of ‘Dutch society’. Whilst politicians and policymakers seem sadly focused on the negative, the positive impact that immigration has had and continues to exert within the Netherlands is largely ignored and certainly under-rated and the Netherlands would be culturally and economically poorer without its migrant influences.


Rhiannon Meredith

3 “Tijdschrift voor Criminiologie”, themanummer 'Criminaliteit, migratie en etniciteit' 2010.

Photo credits: Flickr by zoetnet and AFP



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18 Comments To This Article

  • P.I posted:

    on 26th June 2011, 20:56:59 - Reply

    as young boys in the fifties walking on the streets of Vlaardingen, we were often discriminated against.Often we were yelled at by passersby and called "Pinda's" , Pinda Pinda Leka leka for no reason other than that we came from the Dutch east Indies.Yes, some dufch are intollerant of others.
  • HTM posted:

    on 21st April 2011, 09:43:25 - Reply

    You can't deny Holland is today a very racist and intolerant country. I lived there for 5 years and then packed my bags and went back to france where things are getting harder for visible minorities but that difference mainly comes from politics more than from the street.
    I remember being insulted by kids in the street for being black in the Hague and which never happened to me before nor after. I'm not saying that racism and xenophobia are specifically Dutch problems, they are rising problems all around Europe nowdays, only the Netherlands is one step further. As Peter points out, even white European workers are not welcome anymore, I mean face it, Holland has a problem with foreigners... all of them
  • DiMaria posted:

    on 8th April 2011, 22:17:02 - Reply

    To testchimp007: Give me a break please! I do notbelieve what you are saying.And I do not perceive the Nls being more xenophbic than Germany, Italy or Denmark. The other day
  • testchimp007 posted:

    on 8th April 2011, 20:09:20 - Reply

    With all of the political nonsense about how immigrants are responsible for everything bad in NL, the overwhelming negativity and xenophobia that seems to pervade the country, my company decided to shut its Amsterdam office and move the business elsewhere in Europe. We don't need the crap and BS that we constantly seemed to get from bureaucrats and politicians. It takes away from doing real things, like conducting business. We also decided to now use freelancers and other people who are, guess what... outside NL. If we were identified as a "Dutch company", it would badly affect our bottom line.
  • Canucky Woman posted:

    on 5th April 2011, 15:16:15 - Reply

    Brushing ALL Dutch people with the same brush is no difference than the Islamophobia being spouted here.

    C'mon people, grow up and think. It's the government (who should know better) that's the problem...
  • P.S. posted:

    on 4th April 2011, 21:39:56 - Reply

    How can there be any kind of progress in a country that blames immigrants for everything when it's not rocket science to see how many women fart out kids as to how do u think these kids are paid for??? By the tax payers. In the usa we call it welfare mothers. There will be no progress from immigrants who want to makes good of their new life but can't because of the dinosaurs who rule the roost here
  • The Disgusting Dutch posted:

    on 4th April 2011, 21:32:39 - Reply

    In the 21st century it's hard to believe how backwards and behind the times Holland is in the way they live and conduct business. They hate everyone that doesn't speak their stupid language and when they walk around they are afraid to look like themselves as they all buy the same clothes and boots, at the cheesiest shops. I seen nicer clothes at walmart. They are all like sheep and their food is gross too. Immigrants want to improve their lives and their new environment as the dutch women as uneducated as they are are a stone throw from the dark ages as they crap out as many Aryans babies as possible all at the tax payers expense. These boozin idiots don't care about anyone else and they are rude to no end. Their rushing around and their pushy attitude along with their yen for anything as cheap as possible makes it unbearable to put up with such a race. It's a bummer my uncles died in ww2 for these losers!!!
  • DiMaria posted:

    on 1st April 2011, 20:31:49 - Reply

    To Laura: A clear example. Go to visit the jails here , in France and other European countries. How many of them are from the same origin? Which is this origin? You know the answer. Why there are so few, eeh, Chinese for example, or Indonesian, other,...? They also came here with not too many things. But with a different mind set.
  • Canucky Woman posted:

    on 31st March 2011, 16:46:36 - Reply

    I agree totally, Laura. My experience as well.

    Abigail, you want to advertise? Pay for it.
  • Big Momma posted:

    on 30th March 2011, 23:18:05 - Reply

    The tolerance of the Dutch is hardly a myth. Just look at history. I know about discrimination, living in the US. The Dutch are having problems with criminality and taking the law into their own hands instead of following Dutch Law. I fully expect the cosmopolitan population to handle these in time. A bit of grumbling is to be expected. And yes, people are not perfect.
  • here in town posted:

    on 30th March 2011, 17:22:09 - Reply

    Hi Abigail. All the reviews have a similar essay section part of the SAT tone to them.
  • Peter posted:

    on 30th March 2011, 15:49:13 - Reply

    Most people assume that intolerance and discrimination in the Netherlands is only levelled at non-Europeans. As a Brit who has worked in France, Belgium and Germany I was shocked to find my rosy view of Dutch egalitarianism was a total illusion. I work in a major multi-national and it has been made clear to me by many actions that even Europeans who are non-Dutch are often (and usually in a quite subtle way) discriminated against.
  • Abigail posted:

    on 30th March 2011, 14:15:53 - Reply

    Oh. They weren't. (You can check the profiles of each reviewer to confirm that.) Nice try, though. Nor were the reviews from Steve Emerson, Forbes (who liked the book so much they made me a columnist), Phyllis Chesler, Robert Spencer, and several others written by people other than the ones who wrote and published them. There's another coming out next month as well. But thanks for pointing out the success of the book, and I especially appreciate you taking the time to look it up.
  • here in town posted:

    on 30th March 2011, 12:35:13 - Reply

    I find it hard to imagine that the five-star reviews on amazon were not written by one and the same person.
  • Abigail posted:

    on 30th March 2011, 12:14:11 - Reply

    I should add that my book, as here, discusses the two-part response to the events of the past ten years: Holland becoming more restrictive and nationalistic, with stronger controls on everyone and everything (the OV Chipcard being the best example of this) while radical imams continue to preach Takfir ideologies, honor killings continue to rise among Muslim women, and more and more Muslims find their way to extremist Islam. Jihad is winning because democracy is losing: both to the far right and to the far left.
  • Abigail posted:

    on 30th March 2011, 12:09:47 - Reply

    The "tolerance" has been a myth from the start, and it's only that the truth is starting to be more apparent that makes people say things like this. To the above poster - it's impossible to live in this country, at least if you read the newspapers, and think for one second that there is no integration problem. When the cry among Muslim immigrants is "assimilation is rape," you know you've got a problem.

    Anyone interested in this might want to pick up a copy of my book, which describes the last 20 years in Holland (including my friendships with Hirsi Ali and van Gogh): Radical State: How Jihad Is Winning Over Democracy in the West. I haven't been able to get it into many bookstores in NL, but you can find it at Amazon and B
  • Laura posted:

    on 28th March 2011, 10:55:41 - Reply

    I think this is exactly the problem the author is talking of - distinguishing some groups of immigrants as "bad" or "less equal." I personally do not see the problems related with the integration of specific groups you mention. Can you please clarify? I live amongst many immigrants and have never noticed these problems.

    Moreover, there is no such thing as one everlasting "Dutch culture". Thus, it is impossible to demand that immigrants accept "our culture." Culture is a dynamic, eclectic mix of many different influences and is thus always changing. This is a good thing that adds to the resilience and appeal of a culture. Things that are now considered to be stereotypically Dutch (think Tulips or, in Utrecht at least: fresh mint tea) have been brought to the Netherlands by immigrants (Tulips from Turkey, mint tea from Morocco).
  • DiMaria posted:

    on 26th March 2011, 11:34:06 - Reply

    I find normal the conservative reaction in Europe. Multiculturalism has indeed failed, but only related to some cultural groups. If you observe most of European countries, there are problems related with the integration of specific groups. It does not happen with Asiatics, Swedes or Southern European, but it clearly happens with other groups. I think the Dutch society has all the right to say: you can come if you adapt. Otherwise the boat will sink soon. Summarizing, I think the move to more conservative stances is normal and totally acceptable. i do not see it as Nederlands voor Nederlanders, but as Necederlands voor all those who accept our cultural side.