The Dutch government this week softened the blow of its tough new immigration law by offering refugee families whose asylum applications are rejected a sum of $7,200 to voluntarily leave the land of windmills, dikes, wooden shoes and Hans Brinker.
“It is stimulation money for them to leave the Netherlands and go back to their own country and build a new career,” a Dutch government official said yesterday on condition of anonymity. He said the government wins by taking people off a monthly dole that amounts to about $700 a month.
The buyout is twice the amount offered when the program to deport 26,000 immigrants by 2008 was first announced. According to Dutch immigration authorities, 150 families have already applied.
The government said the payout provides a small stake that could help a family buy a home, or start a small business in a nation like Turkey, Morocco or Algeria.
Until a few years ago, the Netherlands had the most liberal immigration policy in Europe, investing huge sums in welcoming foreign asylum seekers and refugees. It took years for an asylum seeker to become legal, but few, if any, were deported if their applications failed.
But with the ethnic population surging to 17 percent, the Dutch became less comfortable living side by side with the Indonesian, Moroccan, Surinamese, Turkish, North African and Antillean immigrant communities.
“This policy is a symbolic action on the part of the government that it will no longer continue the practices of the past,” said Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. “There is a sense among the Dutch that their fundamental commitment to tolerance may have gone too far when it comes to immigration.”
In the two years since anti-immigration Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn first declared the Netherlands “full,” his most draconian prescriptions have been embraced by mainstream political parties and the parliament has passed legislation to deport 26,000 foreigners.
A proposed “assimilation” law that is being debated, but is expected to pass and go into effect in January, will require new immigrants to speak rudimentary Dutch before they arrive.
A combination of high unemployment across Europe and terrorism fears has made immigrants less welcome than ever in the Netherlands. The “immigrant density” of The Netherlands is roughly equivalent to that of the United States, said Mr. Papademetriou. He said the unemployment rate in immigrant communities was about 15 percent, or twice that of the ethnic Dutch.
“If I’m willing to pay you $7,000 to leave, it means I don’t like you very much. They hate the Muslims,” said Ben Wattenberg, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of a forthcoming book on the issue titled, “Fewer: How the Demographics of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future.”
“Europe is sort of schizophrenic on this,” Mr. Wattenberg said. “The birth and fertility rates have fallen like a stone. It causes enormous problems. Europe will lose between 100 [million] and 120 million people in the next 50 years.
“The median age rises. Immigrants tend to be younger, paying into the pension programs. Who will empty the bedpans in the assisted living centers if they deport all the immigrants?”
He said The Netherlands is legendary for its tolerance of alternative lifestyles, beliefs and practices. Today that tolerance includes legal recognition of marijuana use, euthanasia, same-sex “marriage” and prostitution. But the country has drawn the line at welcoming more immigrants, especially Muslims, he said.
“It is one thing to smoke dope with another Dutchman, and quite another to have a Muslim community where the crime rate is high outside Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague,” he said.
Mr. Papademetriou said while the United States is a nation of immigrants, Europeans have always thought of immigrants as “temporary workers” who would one day go home.
As a result, governments have been reluctant to invest in the social infrastructure necessary for integration and assimilation.