Anthony Deutsch, AP, Wash. Times, Apr. 11
AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Mohammed Lazizi, who fled a bloody military crackdown in his native Algeria, seems a model candidate for political asylum.
After 11 years in the Netherlands, he speaks fluent Dutch, juggles three jobs, and teaches judo to handicapped children in his spare time.
Instead, Mr. Lazizi faces imprisonment and expulsion to his still-volatile and violent homeland.
The Netherlands, once one of Europe’s most open countries, is undergoing a fundamental shift that will turn away immigrants by the tens of thousands.
Virtually every European government is cracking down, but none as fiercely as the Dutch. Its parliament adopted in February a one-time measure to deport 26,000 rejected asylum seekers, and the government is preparing to open “expulsion centers” this spring where entire families will be detained pending deportation.
The first to go will be around 3,000 asylum seekers who have exhausted all possibilities.
No one, it seems, is immune — not even Sarah Chmoun, 79, and her husband, Chabo, 84, a Christian couple who are handicapped and suffering dementia, and are being cared for by their Dutch son and five grandchildren. Both are threatened with deportation back to Syria, their home country.
“If I’m such a nuisance to the Dutch government, they should just kill me here,” said Mrs. Chmoun. “I don’t need to be sent all the way back to Syria to die on the streets.”
When she came here in 1993, the doors were wide open for those seeking refuge from persecution. An estimated 433,000 people, equal to 2.7 percent of the Dutch population, applied for asylum between 1990 and 2003, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
When her husband joined her seven years later, the Dutch were having second thoughts.
Until now, rejected applicants were ordered to leave, but not forcibly expelled. So most stayed illegally, like Mr. Lazizi and Mr. and Mrs. Chmoun.
But increasingly, like many native Europeans, the Dutch feel overwhelmed by immigrants from the Muslim east, Africa and former Dutch colonies, who often form an underclass in crowded cities with high crime rates.
The Netherlands is one of the most densely packed countries on Earth. Its 3 million first — or second-generation immigrants are 19 percent of the 16 million inhabitants — nearly twice the proportion in neighboring Germany.
Cities such as Rotterdam are one-third immigrant, and studies say that figure will rise to 50 percent by 2017.
“An uncoordinated stream of immigrants leads to social tensions, overtaxing of the welfare state, disturbances in the labor market, and development of ‘concentration neighborhoods’ in the big cities,” said Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk.
A gradual clampdown that began in 2000 has cut asylum applications by 70 percent, compared with declines of 36 percent in Germany, 38 percent in Britain and 60 percent in Belgium.
To discourage newcomers, the Dutch raised prices for residency documents by as much as 600 percent, cracked down on illegal labor, introduced compulsory language and citizenship courses, and made it much harder for an immigrant to bring in a spouse.
The parameters of the debate were transformed by the 2002 election campaign, when maverick politician Pim Fortuyn voiced an opinion many shared but were too timid to say out loud: There’s no room for more immigrants.
Mr. Fortuyn was assassinated nine days before the election, but his ideas resonated among Dutch who feel the high taxes they pay for their social safety net shouldn’t be spent on immigrants. Mr. Fortuyn’s party won 10 percent of the vote and a place in a coalition government, where its ideas were co-opted by mainstream parties.
Thousands of refused asylum seekers have already been put on chartered flights to their homelands. Human Rights Watch fears many will be returned to unstable regions such as Somalia, Afghanistan and Chechnya.
The new expulsion procedure will begin at closed-door centers such as converted army barracks, each with room for several hundred inmates.
The government will be able to keep them there for up to four months, and they will be offered counseling and assistance in returning home.
Those refused travel documents by their home countries and therefore unable to return could be detained an additional six months and then put out on the street with no access to social services.
Stephan Kok, an international policy adviser at the Dutch Refugee Council, said the government is violating human rights conventions and going beyond social norms in the rest of the Europe.
The most troubling Dutch measure, Mr. Kok said, is the “accelerated procedure” that enables immigration officials to reject applications in 48 hours without even hearing an applicant’s full story. The measure has created an “expulsion factory,” he said.
Judges can no longer conduct their own examination of asylum applications, and must accept the information provided by immigration officials. No other country is rejecting more than half its newcomers within four days and putting them on the street, Mr. Kok said.
He predicts that it is just a matter of time before the Dutch state is hauled before the European Court of Human Rights, whose rulings are binding on European countries, including the Netherlands.
European Union officials say their 15 member states — which will expand to 25 on May 1 — already take in nearly 400,000 asylum-seekers a year, mostly from the Balkans, Asia and North Africa, plus about 500,000 job-seeking illegal aliens. Many governments are facing pressure to stem the flow, but only the Dutch are planning mass deportations.
Austria has new legislation empowering it to force asylum seekers to wait out application appeals abroad, while traditionally strict Denmark has toughened conditions for residency.
In Germany, which has 4 million unemployed and 7 million foreigners, conservatives are seeking tighter limits on newcomers.
France, where asylum requests are up 32 percent since 2000, has passed a law to cut immigration. Last year it deported nearly 11,700 people — a 16 percent increase — and the Interior Ministry says 30,000 to 40,000 more will follow.
Britain is considering accelerating asylum decisions and deportations, limiting appeal rights, and allowing the state to take custody of the children of failed refugees who refuse to leave.
Like thousands of others who have exhausted Dutch asylum procedures, Mr. Lazizi, the Algerian, has been asked to cooperate in his own unwilling departure by obtaining travel documents from the Algerian Embassy, but the embassy refused, he said.
Mr. Lazizi left Algeria in 1993, shortly after his Islamic Salvation Front party was outlawed and its leader assassinated. Under military rule, thousands of political opponents have been killed or gone missing, and disappearances still occur, according to Human Rights Watch.
“The military came to power and supporters of the party were oppressed or detained in prison camps in the desert,” Mr. Lazizi, 31, said in an interview. “You have to stay silent and live under oppression. I couldn’t do it.”
He got a grant to study Dutch at Amsterdam University and graduated as a sports therapist. Although refused residency and a work permit, he illegally holds a full-time job as a carpenter, and works as a sports therapist and judo teacher in the evenings.
“If you’re caught with three kilograms of cocaine at the airport, you’re free to walk because of prison-cell shortages,” Mr. Lazizi said. “But for us, they build special expulsion centers.”