Liberal Netherlands Grows Less So on Immigration ; after a Report Projecting a Majority Nonnative Population by 2017, Rotterdam Voted This Month to Limit Poor Newcomers

By Jennifer Ehrlich Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 19, 2003 | Go to article overview

Liberal Netherlands Grows Less So on Immigration ; after a Report Projecting a Majority Nonnative Population by 2017, Rotterdam Voted This Month to Limit Poor Newcomers


Jennifer Ehrlich Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Within sight of this port city's historic soccer stadium, the largest mosque in Europe is going up. When complete, its 164-foot- high minarets will tower over the arena.

A decade ago, few would have objected to such a large Islamic imprint. But now, worried that the mosque is sharpening ethnic tensions in the city's working-class Dutch neighborhood, city leaders are calling for a design that is "less Arabic."

"There's no reason the minarets have to be that high - it will not be Rotterdam; it will be Mecca on the Maas (river)," said Ronald Sorenson, leader of Leefbaar Rotterdam (Livable Rotterdam), the largest party in the city council.

The controversy is emblematic of larger concerns in the Netherlands that the growing immigrant population - which is mostly Muslim - will dominate more than a skyline. In a nation known for its liberal views and openness, the days of multicultural tolerance may be fading as residents question the numbers of foreigners and the social-welfare costs of integrating them.

Earlier this month, citing a need to restore long-term balance in a city projected to have a majority-immigrant population within 15 years, Rotterdam's city council approved restrictions to close the door to poor and unemployed newcomers.

"It is as if the Netherlands has realized that they are a multicultural society, and are beginning to say to themselves - 'Well, we always said we wanted this, but now we have second thoughts,' " says Jan Niessen, director of the independent Migration Policy Group in Brussels. "The time of formulating nice policies about multiculturalism is over."

The move came after a report from the Dutch government research bureau Centrum Voor Underzoek and Statistiek, which forecast that, by 2017, almost 60 percent of Rotterdam's 600,000 population will be nonnative. Now, almost half of the population in the city - the nation's second-largest - was born outside Holland.

Rotterdam's decision, which is likely to face court challenges, is extreme among immigration policies in Europe. Still, it reflects an increasingly less friendly attitude on the Continent toward immigrants.

Under the new policy, only newcomers earning at least 20 percent more than minimum wage (or about $11.15 per hour) will receive a residency permit from the city. Rotterdam has also asked that for four years the national government send no more political refugees its way. The city also plans to step up deportations of illegal immigrants and to try to stop immigrants from bringing in migrant spouses.

The main national Dutch opposition parties blasted the plan as discriminatory. Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk has criticized the plans as unrealistic, saying that Rotterdam cannot refuse entry to newcomers whom the federal government has recognized as refugees or to whom it has given a residency permit.

But city leaders estimate that Rotterdam receives 60 percent of all new immigrants to the Netherlands, and that it simply cannot cope with the housing expenses and other social-welfare costs of absorbing more. Meanwhile, city leaders say middle-class Dutch residents are leaving the city because of rising crime rates and deteriorating neighborhoods. …

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