Europe Rethinks Its 'Safe Haven' Status ; Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Departure from Dutch Politics Last Week Played off Fears about 'Bogus' Asylum Seekers

By Sarah Wildman Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Europe Rethinks Its 'Safe Haven' Status ; Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Departure from Dutch Politics Last Week Played off Fears about 'Bogus' Asylum Seekers


Sarah Wildman Contributor to The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The night air in Vienna has finally turned warm, filling the city's trams with visitors. On the Ringstrasse, tourists take in the city, pointing out the City Hall and the parliament.

"Did you see that one girl - so young! And wearing a veil," a woman clucks in lightly accented English, staring out the window of tram D. "They will form a separate culture."

The sentiment isn't isolated. Earlier this month, Austria's Interior Minister Liese Prokop announced that 45 percent of Muslim immigrants were "unintegratable," and suggested that those people should "choose another country."

In the Netherlands, one of Europe's most integrated refugees and a critic of radical Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, resigned her seat in parliament in the wake of criticism that she faked details on her asylum application to the Netherlands in 1992. And France's lower house of parliament last week passed a strict new immigration law, now awaiting Senate approval.

Indeed, recent rumblings from the top echelons of governments across Europe suggest that the continent is rethinking its once- vaunted status as a haven for refugees as it becomes more suspicious that many immigrants are coming to exploit its social benefits and democratic principles.

"The trend today more and more in Europe is to try to control immigration flow," says Philippe De Bruycker, founder of the Odysseus Network, an academic consortium on immigration and asylum in Europe. "At the same time we still say we want to respect the right of asylum and the possibility of applying for asylum. But of course along the way we create obstacles for asylum seekers," he acknowledges.

A day after Ms. Prokop made her controversial statement on May 15, Ms. Hirsi Ali - a Somalian immigrant elected to parliament in 2003 - was informed by her own political party that her Dutch citizenship was in question. Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, a former prison warden dubbed "Iron Rita" who has long promised a tough stance on immigration, said "the preliminary assumption must be that - in line with case law of the Dutch Supreme Court - [Hirsi Ali] is considered not to have obtained Dutch nationality."

At issue were inconsistencies in Hirsi Ali's application for asylum in 1992 - giving a false name and age, and saying she was fleeing from Somalia's civil war, not a forced marriage. Though she had publically admitted to the falsities in 2002, a recent TV documentary heightened public scrutiny of the controversial parliamentarian, who has been under 24-hour protection from death threats since the murder of Theo Van Gogh, the director of a film she wrote. Hirsi Ali's case, heatedly debated across Europe in the days since Ms. Verdonk's announcement, was seen as particularly ironic. But it also highlights the dramatic change in Europe since the turn of this century.

In the years following the World War II, a chagrined US and Europe vowed to follow the Geneva Conventions and create safe havens for refugees.

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