Thursday, February 19, 2004

BRUSSELS — The Dutch government was in no mood to back down yesterday after pushing through legislation that provides for the mass expulsion of more than 20,000 failed asylum seekers.

The governing center-right coalition has blocked all moves to soften the bill, passed Tuesday in the face of outraged howls from church and human rights groups.

Under the law, the first of its kind in Europe, children reared in the Netherlands and settled refugees with stable jobs will be uprooted and deported as the government attempts to clear a years-old asylum backlog in one “clean sweep.”

About 26,000 rejected asylum seekers who arrived in the Netherlands before April 1, 2001, and have exhausted all appeals will be stripped of their asylum benefits and put on aircraft to go back home.

These include Afghans, Somalis and Chechens facing civil wars or life in regions with no functioning government.

The Christian Democrat-led government has granted an amnesty for 2,300 asylum seekers considered to face the gravest risks if they return home. The Labor Party opposition had demanded amnesty for 8,000.

Human Rights Watch accused the country of failing to consider “evidence of integration” into Dutch society and of violating the international Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Dutch Council of State ruled two years ago that the convention does not apply to children of immigrants who have no right to residence in the Netherlands, a move widely branded a “dangerous precedent.”

Although the mass deportation has horrified the moderate-left enclaves of Amsterdam and Utrecht, it has been well received in working-class areas most threatened by rising unemployment.

The law goes beyond the rhetoric of conservative politician Pim Fortuyn, who argued before his assassination two years ago that foreigners already living in the country should be allowed to stay.

Critics said the law would prove unenforceable because international rules prevent states from deporting refugees who have no documents, or who lie about their origin.

The Justice Ministry conceded that many would have to be let loose on Dutch streets if they refused to accept a free flight home and a repatriation cash bonus after a two-month stint in a deportation center.

“They will become illegal immigrants without any right to benefits. There is nothing else we can do,” said a spokesman, acknowledging that they could be drawn into the criminal underworld.

In a letter to Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, Human Rights Watch said the move “would signal a serious departure from the Netherlands’ historic role as a leader in human rights protection in Europe.”

It added: “The Dutch government claims that the proposals are safe and humane. But sending people back to places where they could be in danger not only jeopardizes their safety, it is illegal.”

Nearly 19 percent of the Dutch population of 16 million is of foreign stock, with sizable contributions from Turkey (340,000), Suriname (320,000) and Morocco (295,000), according to Agence France-Presse.

New asylum applications have fallen steeply from 43,560 in 2000 to an estimated 10,000 in the past year, but the scale of past immigration — mostly through family reunion — has stirred fears that Dutch society is spiraling out of control.

A parliamentary report last month concluded that the country’s 30-year experiment in tolerant multiculturalism had been a failure, and has resulted in poor schools, violence, and ethnic ghettoes that shun intermarriage with the Dutch.

It found that 70 percent to 80 percent of third-generation Dutch-born immigrants imported their spouses from their “home” countries, mostly Turkey and Morocco. The consequences of this were brought home after September 11, 2001, when the intelligence service discovered that terror network al Qaeda was “stealthily taking root in Dutch society.”

Immigrants make up almost 50 percent of the population of Rotterdam. Once a Labor stronghold, the city became the launching pad for Mr. Fortuyn’s mass movement, which drew from the left as well as the right, warning that radical Islam posed a threat to the Netherlands’ easygoing liberal values.

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