The government is embarking on a slippery path by pushing the boundaries of human rights treaties in a final attempt to accommodate asylum seekers in Ter Apel.
Foreign Minister Eric van der Burgh (Asylum) is now investigating whether these people can be accommodated on cruise ships at sea. The Cabinet also wants to buy the sites themselves and force unwilling municipalities to accommodate the people.
Municipalities will soon be able to choose the nationality of the people they receive. Unfortunately, there are still many municipalities that only want to provide assistance and shelter to Ukrainian refugees, and not to people who have fled Arab or African countries. The fact that van der Burg has to go along with this in order to force a solution says a lot about how the climate in the Netherlands has hardened for refugees.
Refugees from Ukraine may have a different status – they are not officially asylum seekers but have roughly equal rights to EU citizens – and this does not change the fact that there is unwelcome discrimination here, which limits the discrimination.
When asylum seekers are received on the high seas until their asylum application is processed, the cruise ship is a kind of prison. Even UNHCR and the Dutch Refugee Council called it “crazy”, “wonderful” and “ridiculous”. There is also remarkably little hype about it.
However, the detention of refugees is in violation of all international conventions on human rights and refugees. In 2020, the European Court of Justice is still condemning Hungary, which is imprisoning refugees at the border with Serbia. Why should the Dutch plan be evaluated differently?
The question now is whether we are on the eve of a tight policy of discouragement, as fervently advocated by the PVV, JA21 and other right-wing parties. They refer to Australia and Denmark. In Australia, illegal refugees are taken directly to the Pacific island of Nauru, where they have been held for years. Aid workers are not allowed to talk about what they are experiencing there under penalty of imprisonment. Journalists are not welcome
The Danish Parliament has passed a law that from now on asylum seekers must wait for their procedures outside Europe. Negotiations are now underway with Rwanda, Egypt and Eritrea. Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently tried something similar, but the European Court of Human Rights halted the first deportation flight at the last minute. The British challenge this decision.
It is good that the VVD Minister is dealing with acute problems with asylum reception. But the Danish or Australian approach does not suit the Netherlands as long as we want to continue to respect human rights. Van den Burg can take an example from a brilliant predecessor, Ad Cousteau. In the 1990s, the PvdA’s Secretary of State for Asylum responded to the call for a harsher asylum policy with the words: “We are humanitarian, remember?”
Commentary is Trouw’s opinion expressed by members of the editorial board and senior editors.
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