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May 2000, Volume 7, Number 5

Benelux Asylum and Jobs

Netherlands. The Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics reported in February 2000 that 76 percent of those polled want fewer asylum-seekers to be allowed into the Netherlands, while 22 percent said all foreigners from outside the European Union should be refused entry. In a poll of several thousand adults conducted in 1997-98, more than 50 percent of the respondents opposed policies to increase job opportunities for foreigners, and a similar percentage said immigrants should try harder to fit in.

In its annual report on immigration, the CBS reported that between 1990 and 1999 the number of foreigners of Asian, Latin American, Turkish or African descent had risen by 62 percent to 1.3 million, while the Dutch population rose six percent, to 15.8 million.

About 425 asylum-seekers are housed in a reception center that has been in operation near Kollum for four years. After the rape and murder of a 16-year old Dutch girl in 1999, a gang of local youths attempted to break into the reception center, and the center was placed under police surveillance. The girl's father blamed his daughter's death on the government's asylum policy. The Institute of Race Relations said: "Of around 500 tip-offs from the public received by the police and of 1,000 statements taken as a result of these tip-offs, not one mentioned a dark-skinned person near the scene of the crime."

There are some 500,000 unemployed in the Dutch labor force of 7.7 million, making the Dutch unemployment rate 2.7 percent in 2000, the lowest rate in 20 years. The government is raising the retirement age and temporary help firms are coaxing older workers into part-time jobs—workers over 65 are 20 to 25 percent cheaper because their employers do not have to contribute to social security for them. Some Dutch employers recruit abroad, including in other EU nations. A TV ad in Ireland asks "Do you want to go Dutch?" to recruit workers to the Netherlands.

The government has also lifted its prohibition of asylum seekers getting work while they wait for authorities to decide on their applications.

Many credit the Dutch job boom to the "Polder" system, an arrangement negotiated by business, unions and government in the winter of 1982 under which unions restrain wage demands, employers promise to hire more workers, and the government reduces labor costs by curbing increases in wage-related taxes and social-security contributions. The result was "the Dutch miracle" -- high growth and low unemployment.

Belgium. Belgium's general commissioner for refugees Luk De Smet announced plans to handle asylum applications much faster, a reaction to the increasing number of applications filed by Czechs and Slovaks. Belgium reintroduced visa requirements for Slovaks in April 2000, after 250 Slovaks applied for asylum. Most of the asylum applications are rejected, and Belgium is working with the International Organization for Migration to persuade 1,500 rejected asylum seekers to return voluntarily to Slovakia. The new hard-line policy is intended to reduce support for the anti-immigrant Vlaams Blok, which has emerged as the biggest single party in the Flemish bastion of Antwerp, with 30 percent of popular support.

Belgium, which is tightening its immigration policy, designated a three-week period in January 2000 when illegal migrants could register official asylum applications without fear of prosecution.

Stephen Castle, "How murder of Dutch girl triggered a national backlash against refugees," The Independent, March 22, 2000.