Dutch mayors rebel against asylum policy

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Several dozen Dutch mayors have publicly announced their opposition to the government's asylum policy. The rebel mayors are refusing to allow the police forces under their jurisdiction to deport failed asylum seekers if they believe it will lead to "unrest in the community."

This is the second time in less than six months that the strict immigration policies being implemented by the government have generated stiff opposition as well as a great deal of negative publicity for Immigration Minister Gerd Leers and the coalition cabinet.

The rebellion began in the small municipality of Giessenlanden in the province of South Holland: Mayor Els Boot refused to allow the local police to co-operate in the deportation of Rafiq Naibzay, a 45-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan. Naibzay is suspected of committing crimes against humanity and is therefore ineligible to remain in the Netherlands.

According to Mayor Boot, there will be serious consequences if Rafiq Naibzay is deported. His wife, who has been granted a residence permit, is extremely dependent on her husband. The couple's four children, two of them minors, have also been granted residence permits. The mayor says Mrs Naibzay suffers from psychiatric problems and has suicidal tendencies. In a television interview, Mayor Boot said "it's entirely possible that she could harm herself if her husband were to be deported. If that were to occur, it would cause a great deal of unrest in the community."

After the television interview, Minister Leers summoned the recalcitrant mayor to come to his office in The Hague and discuss the case. Meanwhile, around 40 of her fellow mayors have joined her rebellion. In a letter to Leers, the mayors say the minister does not have the authority to compel local police to carry out deportation orders issued by the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (INS). However, Leers claims that he, as immigration minister in charge if the INS, does have that authority. The rebels also say that it has never been proven that Naibzay, who has been in the Netherlands for the past 14 years, ever committed any human rights violations.

Secret police
Naibzay worked for Afghanistan's secret police, KhAD, when the country was ruled by a pro-communist regime. He fled when the Taliban seized power in 1996. Because he worked for the secret police, the Dutch government automatically assumes that he took part in the interrogation, torture and even execution of opponents of the regime. The INS, which falls under the immigration ministry, has therefore classified Naibzay as 1F. Under Article 1F (a) of the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of refugees, a person is excluded from being classified as a refugee where there are serious reasons for considering that she/he has committed certain heinous acts, including crimes against humanity.

In an article in the Journal of Criminology, criminologist Joris van Wijk writes that individuals are rarely investigated and asylum seekers who are suspected of having committed human rights violations are very rarely prosecuted. Naibzay has not been given the opportunity to defend himself against the accusations in a court of law.

Deportation is also fairly rare. Since the mid-1990s, hundreds of failed asylum seekers have been told that they must leave the country because they are suspected of having committed human rights violations in their home countries. However, it is not known if anyone who has been told to leave the country has actually done so.

Gerd Leers is a member of the Christian Democrat party, which is the junior party in the two-party minority coalition that currently governs the Netherlands. In order to get legislation through parliament, the coalition relies on support from the Freedom Party (PVV), the anti-immigration, anti-Muslim party led by Geert Wilders. The PVV is pressuring Leers to rigorously enforce the strict asylum policies set out in the coalition agreement.

It's not the first time that Leers' decisions have caused an uproar. In October 2011, he ruled that Mauro Manuel, an 18-year-old Angolan asylum seeker would have to leave the Netherlands, despite being here for almost a decade. Many said the decision was, "inhumane," as Manuel was completely assimilated. Several Christian Democrat MPs - along with numerous party members - also voiced their opposition to the decision, a move which threatened the cabinet's stability. Eventually a compromise was agreed and Manuel was allowed to stay in the Netherlands on a student visa.

The conflict between Leers and the mayors is all the more remarkable as the minister was once a rebellious mayor himself. When he was in charge of the southern city of Maastricht, he was a fierce and a vocal opponent of the government's soft drug policies. Leers' was a noisy advocate for allowing marijuana cultivation and urged further relaxation of regulations governing the sale of hashish and marijuana.