TILBURG, Netherlands — An estimated 20,000 Dutch Somalis have left the Netherlands for Britain over the past five years, escaping a multicultural model once touted as the most enlightened in the world.
They have expressed frustration with a system they say keeps them trapped in welfare dependency and fosters ethnic tension.
Somali Muslim families are moving en masse to Leicester and Birmingham in England from the industrial cities of Tilburg and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
The exodus is linked to the anti-Muslim feeling that burst into the open with the advent of Pim Fortuyn, the populist politician who was fatally shot and whose party crushed the Dutch establishment in the 2002 elections.
But it began earlier. Adan Igeh Hussein, of the Somali European Forum, said Somalis felt bullied by a “forced assimilation” policy, which orders them to live apart in scattered housing.
“It’s not that the British are more friendly than the Dutch. It is just that they let us stay as we are. Somalis can integrate without losing their cultural identity,” he said.
Dutch rules make it difficult for new arrivals to work for the first five years, yet migrants are resented if take state handouts.
“We don’t want to depend on social benefits. We’re a business-oriented people, but here the rules and red tape make it a nightmare to start anything. You have to have a certificate just to clean houses. In Britain, it’s so much easier if you want to set up a restaurant or a shop,” he said.
Adan Hassan, the Somali owner of a Tilburg Internet cafe, said the Netherlands’ image had always been an illusion.
“The Dutch think they are multicultural, tolerant people, and they are in a way, but if you go deeply inside, nothing is what it seems. The system is closed to outsiders,” he said.
“We’ve been here for 12 or 15 years. The government gives us housing, it spends a lot of money, but it’s still been a failure. After one year in Britain, everybody is very happy,” he said.
Half of Tilburg’s 3,000 Somalis already have left, mostly crowding together on a few streets in Leicester.
The Racism and Extreme Right Monitor in the Netherlands has reported a surge in violent attacks on Dutch Muslims since the slaying of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic fanatic.
Denmark also has seen an exodus of Somalis, with as many as 4,000 leaving for Britain from Aarhus over two years.
A Danish study found that migrants were shocked by Britain’s poor housing and dirty streets, but still clung to an “idyllic” vision of English freedom “even after arriving.”
It said Somali women were made to feel inadequate by Denmark’s feminism if they stayed at home to look after their children.
Academic studies estimate there are now 70,000 to 100,000 Somalis in Britain. Officially, the figure is 20,000.