Dutch immigration minister under fire

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Dutch parliamentary elections are just over a month away, and the political hot potato of immigration is firmly back on the agenda in the Netherlands. The minister responsible for immigration and asylum is under fire for fiddling the deportation figures, and the Council of Europe is criticising Dutch treatment of illegal aliens.  

Gerd Leers talked tough when he took office as Minister for Immigration under the previous minority cabinet. All asylum-seekers whose requests were rejected would be deported as quickly as possible. But it now appears that the minister may have been playing fast and loose with the statistics. An investigation by current affairs programme Nieuwsuur claims that most of those described as being deported are not refugees. The official number of “forcible deportations” also includes people stopped at the border such as those carrying drugs or without a visa.  “The largest number of so-called deportations,” said migration specialist Han Entzinger, “is in fact of people who have never actually entered the Netherlands”. 

Massaging the numbers?
Mr Leers did not take part in the programme but said via a spokesperson that the department’s figures were always collated in this fashion. However, politicians from a number of opposition parties said they were not aware of this and were critical of the minister. “Leers is massaging the numbers to create the impression he’s deporting as many people as possible” said Labour Party MP Martijn van Dam.

Detention “inhumane”
The minister is also under fire from another quarter. The Council of Europe, Europe’s advisory body for human rights, has just issued a report highly critical of the treatment of unsuccessful asylum-seekers in the Netherlands. The Council says the conditions in detention centres are sometimes in conflict with international agreements such as the European Treaty for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. This comes hard on the heels of a report by the Dutch Ombudsman describing conditions in detention centres for illegal aliens as “inhumane”. 

Unlawful treatment
Around 6,000 people are currently in Dutch detention centres awaiting deportation. This total includes a large proportion of refugees whose asylum requests have been rejected. It is not always possible for these people to return to their country of origin, so they can sometimes be kept in detention for the maximum period of 18 months. It is also not uncommon for those who have been released from detention to be re-arrested and detained once more. The Council of Europe describes these practices as unlawful, saying illegal aliens may only be forcibly detained if there is a realistic prospect of deportation.  

The Council is also critical of the treatment of detainees, saying it is worse than that of convicted criminals, and of the Dutch practice of detaining families with children.  

Last resort
The criticisms echo those of Ombudsman Alex Brenninkmeier who said earlier this week that change was urgently needed in detention centres. He said detainees should have more freedom of movement, better access to medical care and the opportunity to work or study. Mr Leers again reacted via a spokesperson, saying detention was only ever a last resort and it was up to aliens themselves to avoid it. “Those willing to co-operate with their departure will not be forcibly detained,” he said.  

The criticism from the Council of Europe is particularly unwelcome for the Netherlands which aims to set an example for other countries when it comes to human rights. Dutch governments regularly condemn human rights abuses in countries such as Russia and Turkey which are also members of the Council.