For Foreigners, Wide Open Door Wide Open No More
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) _ Time was when this liberal little country had a worldwide reputation as a refuge for foreigners. Those times are gone.
A tough stand against immigration is being taken by the country that once sheltered Jews from the Spanish Inquisition, Pilgrim Fathers persecuted by the English government and Anne Frank hiding from the Nazis.
Without a sponsor or a job, the door is virtually closed now to all but some asylum seekers.
Public policy has turned against the idea of separate ethnic communities enriching this nation of 15.6 million.
Left-leaning Dutch governments of the 1970s and 1980s have given way to increasing fiscal and social conservatism, typified by a recent Interior Ministry statement that would have been anathema a decade ago.
``Europe is not an immigration continent, nor is the Netherlands an immigration country,″ the ministry said.
By keeping a lid on immigration, the Dutch government wants to prevent the widespread anti-foreigner violence that has plagued Germany and France.
But the main reason is financial: The past decade’s surge of asylum seekers has triggered a Europe-wide reaction against spending scarce resources on foreigners.
Dutch government stipends for 52,000 asylum seekers last year cost about $779 million, according to the National Center for Asylum Seekers.
Germany adopted a tougher asylum policy two years ago, cutting applications back from a record 438,191 in 1992 to 127,210 in 1994.
The Dutch are trying to catch up with the trend.
That means new intake centers along the German and Belgian borders to weed out bogus asylum applicants, the so-called economic migrants shopping around for a better life.
The government credits the intake centers for a sharp drop in asylum applications from 25,982 in the first half of 1994 to 14,387 cases for the same months this year.
The government is even giving an ultimatum to those who are granted political asylum: Learn Dutch or get your welfare cut.
``People with little or no Dutch will have problems finding a good job,″ said Interior Ministry spokeswoman Karin Donk.
Tens of thousands of Turks and Moroccans poured into the industrializing Netherlands in the 1960s when manpower was scarce.
``There was no immigration policy then,″ said Tinus Heijmans, a spokesman for the government-funded Center for Immigrants.
The open door resulted in large non-Dutch communities that critics warn can never assimilate because of cultural and language differences.
Now there are 215,000 ethnic Turks and 164,000 Moroccans in Holland.
Most asylum seekers now come from the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Iraq, and Iran. The Dutch Refugee Council says refugee joblessness may be as high as 70 percent.
``I am homeless and helpless,″ said 35-year-old nutritionist Asha Weheliye from Somalia. ``I didn’t come here for economic reasons, I came here for security and safety.″
She arrived five months ago with her three children and is living at an asylum-seeker center.
Even the political left, once champion of the immigrant, has changed its tune.
``When economic immigrants came during the 1960s, we thought they would go back,″ said Labor Party lawmaker Ella Kalsbeek. ``But they stayed here permanently and we’ve learned that immigrants have to integrate.″