- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002

BRUSSELS The party of slain politician Pim Fortuyn is to take control of immigration policy in the Netherlands' new government, but it faces pressure to soften its tough line on asylum seekers because of European Union rules and international conventions.

Party leader Mat Herben said yesterday that List Pim Fortuyn, one of the parties in the center-right coalition that shocked Europe when it took control from a Labor-led government in May, would control the Immigration Ministry as one of four Cabinet jobs.

"This whole immigration process will now be our responsibility," Mr. Herben said. "From the moment that an asylum seeker comes to our country until he is integrated. That's what Pim always wanted."

Mr. Fortuyn, a homosexual with both left- and right-wing views, surged from nowhere late last year to emerge as the second political force in the country.

He was killed, many suspect by an animal rights activist, but his makeshift party cobbled together in days went on to win 26 seats in parliament.

Mr. Fortuyn broke the taboo on addressing immigration, saying the Netherlands was already bursting at the seams and was witnessing a cultural revolution. There are now an estimated 1.8 million immigrants in a population of 16 million.

What is far from clear, however, is whether his party can deliver on its promises to close the gates to immigration given the constraints of the 1951 Geneva Convention.

Mr. Herben has quietly dropped Mr. Fortuyn's suggestion that the Netherlands suspend the European Union's agreement on open borders, accepting that any such move would provoke a dispute with Brussels.

"Nobody wants to break international conventions, so it isn't really possible to change policy," said Eddy Habben Jansen, an analyst from the Dutch Political Institute.

The coalition's dominant figure and future prime minister, Christian Democrat leader Jan Peter Balkende, is a committed Europhile. His party will control foreign policy and justice.

One of the few measures List Pim Fortuyn can take is to introduce tough rules on family reunification. Immigrants would have to put up hefty deposits if they want to bring their spouses from countries such as Turkey or Morocco.

The money would be returned when the newcomer completes a Dutch language and assimilation course.

Meanwhile, the French government announced yesterday that a refugee center at the heart of growing tensions between Britain and France over illegal immigration will be closed by the end of next April, the Associated Press reported.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy made the announcement in Paris after meeting with his British counterpart, David Blunkett.

Mr. Sarkozy said the Red Cross-run center near the Channel Tunnel has been used as a jumping-off place for illegal immigrants trying to sneak into Britain and will be close sometime between December and April.

The center at Sangatte houses up to 1,500 refugees. About 40 percent of them are from Afghanistan. France will offer them a plan to voluntarily return home with compensation; those who refuse will be deported, Mr. Sarkozy said.

Britain, for its part, will act to speed up tighter immigration legislation. Mr. Blunkett said new laws will be in place by mid-October. "Great Britain will stop being so attractive" to refugees, he said.

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