Focus (2)

Soualiga Newsday Focus (2700)

Handling of immigration cases has parallels with child benefit scandal, say lawyers

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The treatment of migrants who fall foul of the strict and complex rules allowing them to stay in the Netherlands has echoes of the child benefits scandal, a group of legal experts has said.

Immigration officials and judges are too quick to assume fraud by immigrants and asylum seekers, while the rules give them little scope to consider the human impact of their decisions, according to a report published by the Centre for Migration Law at Radboud Universiteit in Nijmegen.

‘From their arrival in the Netherlands until their naturalisation, the government views migrants with suspicion and there are only limited judicial checks on the suspicious government,’ said the report.

‘In cases involving foreign nationals this leads to injustices that are insufficiently visible.’ The report was compiled in association with lawyers who represent migrants in asylum and naturalisation cases, some of whom fall foul of the rules after years of living and working legally in the Netherlands.

A Filipino woman had her residency permit and those of her two daughters withdrawn after she left her Dutch partner, who had sexually abused one of the two girls. The rules say domestic violence is only a legitimate reason to claim residency if the applicant herself has been abused.

In another case, a Russian man lost his residency rights temporarily when his employer gave him shares in his company as a retirement present. The rules do not allow knowledge migrants to have a stake of more than 25% in the company that they work for.

When the employee realised this he disposed of the holding, but because he was briefly ineligible for residency he now has to wait another five years before he can apply for nationality.

‘Escape route’

‘The rules on eligibility for residential status are extremely strict, as we all want them to be,’ lawyer Barbara Wegelin told NRC. ‘That doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem, as long as there is an escape route for cases that fall just outside the rules but where deportation would be very unjust and the consequences severe.’

Losing residency status can have serious financial consequences for migrants’ families because they are no longer entitled to benefits such as child support. The children’s ombudsman has previously highlighted this issue, which has led some dual-national families to break up so that the Dutch partner does not lose their right to benefits.

The report, ‘Unprecedented injustice in aliens law’, together with a ‘black book’ of sample cases, is being presented to four MPs who previously practised as lawyers and Council of State member Bart Jan van Ettekoven.

Van Ettekoven has said the administrative court intends to review previous migration cases and judgments. ‘We want to see if there have been disproportional consequences for citizens in other areas, even where the law demands that judges take a strict line,’ he said.



Mayors warn coronavirus rules will be ‘unenforceable’ if terraces stay closed

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The mayors of the four largest cities have reacted angrily to the announcement that pavement cafés and restaurant terraces will not open until April 28 at the earliest.

The cabinet confirmed in a statement on Sunday that outdoor catering would not restart on April 21, as suggested in a report leaked last week, because of the high number of patients in intensive care.

The mayors said a limited reopening of terraces was urgently needed to ensure the ‘credibility of the coronavirus measures’. They argued licensed outdoor catering was more effective than letting people drink together informally in parks.

They warned that ‘enforcement will be unachievable and local authorities will be unwillingly pitted against their own residents’ if the lockdown was extended deep into the spring.

Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb said it was becoming impossible to police outdoor spaces as the days become longer and warmer. ‘People are standing too close together,’ he told NOS Radio 1 Journaal.

‘We can only enforce the rules with water cannon, but that’s an aggressive way to deal with your population. Reasonable enforcement, as we call it, is no longer possible.’

Catering trade organisation Koninklijke Horeca Nederland said the decision was ‘a hard slap in the face for restaurant and café owners. It argued that the sector had already drawn up plans to reopen terraces safely.

Pieter Verhoeve, chair of the KBOV, the network of Orange associations, said the cabinet should look at reopening terraces in time for King’s Day on April 27. ‘King’s Day is a holiday and many people are trying to find a meaningful way to celebrate it,’ he said.

Pressure on hospitals

But there was relief among hospital staff, who were dismayed to hear last week that the government was looking to ease restrictions while nearly three-quarters of intensive care beds are occupied by coronavirus patients.

On Sunday 8,288 more infections were announced, the highest daily number for two weeks, while more than 2,500 people are being treated in hospital for the virus, of whom 788 are in intensive care. A

d Melkert, chairman of the board of the Dutch hospitals’ association NVZ, said: ‘This is tough for people who had hoped for or counted on restrictions being eased. But they are still badly needed, because it’s all hands-on deck in our hospitals.

‘First we need to get the virus under control, get more people vaccinated and reduce the pressure on hospitals. Then we can slowly but surely start returning to normal, but I think it’s going to take another few weeks.’



Family is not tourism: campaigners ask Dutch government to allow non-EU family visits

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Dutch residents with relatives living outside the EU have made an urgent plea for the government to allow entry to their family, at the very least in extraordinary circumstances.

A group, Family is not tourism, is campaigning on a European level for direct family members to be treated on a par with romantic partners, who are currently permitted a ‘sweetheart’ visa to enter, despite coronavirus restrictions.

The Netherlands is believed to be one of the strictest countries in Europe in denying entry to mothers, fathers, children and grandparents of Dutch residents, say campaigners.

Lorraine Blauw, a Dutch resident of South African origin, has been lobbying the government to recognise the European list of reasons for ‘imperative family reasons’ for visits, rather than its blanket ban on travel from some countries.

She is asking people to share their stories with the #alsjeblieftnederland hashtag, in an attempt to allow exceptional circumstances to be taken into account. Blauw, 34 and an English teacher based near Leiden, has to have an emergency operation on a tumour next week and is desperate for her mother to be able to visit from South Africa to help her and her two young children during the surgery and recovery.

Partly due to coronavirus restrictions on only one visitor to a house per day, she says, it is not possible to find sufficient help from outside the family.

‘Laughed at’

‘I was diagnosed in May last year with a tumour in my foot, which could cause early heart failure,’ she says.’

For an operation in December, we were able to have my mother-in-law here, as she has a European passport, but this time she can’t come. I asked permission for my mother to come and assist and I was declined.

I was actually laughed at by government officials, who told me to adopt a family and [implied] I was a foreigner who didn’t belong here.’ Blauw, who moved to the Netherlands three years ago, married a Dutch man and speaks fluent Dutch, said she has spent hours on the phone being passed between government services and in writing letters, but has been advised that her mother would be turned back by border police.

One official told her that although the rules are based on EU restrictions, the Dutch government ‘has chosen to interpret the recommendations in a very strict way.’ ‘People have lost their sense of humanity,’ says Blauw.

‘How can they make an exemption for people in a three-month long-distance relationship but not even consider a case for us? My daughter said to me: “If you die when you get operated, maybe grandad and grandma can come.”

That’s what it comes down to. It is heartless.’


Andrea Morales, a lawyer who lives in Den Bosch, believes that scores of families are being denied their right to a family life, for instance to have their non-EU based parents present when they give birth.

Last November she presented a set of more than 300 children’s drawings to the justice ministry in a petition asking for the right to their family life to be respected. ‘There are many kids who don’t have a father or mother, and their grandparents are very important in their life,’ she says.

‘I know of an American girl who has not seen her father [for months] because he is not allowed to enter. My petition was denied for a general exemption for first- and second-degree members, but the government said exceptional cases are covered.

‘But in practice, the IND uses just two examples of a funeral or terminally ill person as fixed rules. The visit of a father to a child, visits for a birth or wedding or emergency help in the case of health situations, they refuse.

Why are there so many women suffering the birth of their children without help from their families or not being helped by their families due to an operation?’ Morales has filed a complaint with the National Ombudsman, complaining that people’s rights are not being respected, although other categories such as students, ‘top’ sportspeople, cultural professionals, journalists and diplomats from outside the EU are indeed allowed to enter.

‘They are denying our right to family life, and one aspect that really bothers me is discrimination,’ she adds. ‘If you allow EU family members to enter without any restriction apart from quarantine and a PCR-test, then I expect the same for the family members of my kids, who are not EU citizens.’


Kristina Machulskaya-Henry, a Dutch-based campaigner, has gathered almost 13,000 signatures on a petition to the EU to lift the travel ban for non-EU close family, saying they break the letter and spirit of regulation and are inconsistent from one country to another.

‘The Netherlands is one of the strictest countries: in some, childbirth or marriage are accepted as a reason,’ she said. ‘A year ago, people were allowed to go abroad on tourist trips, but grandparents or parents weren’t allowed to come to the Netherlands even for an illness or an important event.

We would like the exemptions to the travel ban to be extended to close family members. ‘It’s very valid that people in romantic relationships who are living apart can come, but love is not limited to romance.

The ties between a parent and child are at least as strong. The treatment should be equal between romantic couples and relatives.’ D66 MP Sjoerd Sjoersdma is understood to be preparing to ask urgent parliamentary questions on the subject.

The Dutch justice ministry and the IND referred DutchNews to the information pages on their websites.



Government urged to rethink AstraZeneca age limits, as vaccine roll-out slows

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The government’s decision to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine on people under the age of 60 has led to calls from health experts and private individuals for people to be given the right to decide for themselves.

The Dutch health council recommended the move because of the risk of developing a rare type of blood clot, even though the European Medicines Agency says the vaccine’s advantages outweigh any risks.

The decision means thousands of people under the age of 60 who had been offered the jab because they have prior health conditions have been told their appointments will not now go ahead.

The Netherlands has so far vaccinated some 2.1 million people, out of an eligible population of some 14 million. Dick Willems, professor of medical ethics at the University of Amsterdam, told Trouw on Saturday that it would be logical to leave the choice up to people themselves, as long as they are aware of the advantages and disadvantages.

While the disadvantages are serious, the advantages of being vaccinated are also considerable, he said. ‘You would not only be less sick or die because of coronavirus, but you are also helping protect others and contribute towards society getting back to normal again.’

Haarlem pharmacist Hanneke Luttikhuis says she was very surprised by the government’s decision. ‘We let people decide when it comes to other medicine,’ she told Trouw.

‘Your doctor tells you that they are prescribing a medicine and that it has these side effects. And the patient makes a choice based on that information.’ Luttikhuis has now started a petition ‘stop the vaccination stop’ in an effort to gather support for a free choice. The petition calls on health minister Hugo de Jonge to remove all age limits on the vaccine and ‘let people decide.’ ‘Compared it to the birth control pill,’ she said. ‘The risk of thrombosis is bigger than with the AstraZeneca vaccine… and women have the choice whether to take it or not.’

A spokesman for the health ministry said that the decision had been taken on the basis of the health council recommendations. ‘Letting people decide for themselves would be going against that,’ the spokesman said.

Side effects

Meanwhile, other experts have told broadcaster NOS that there may now be too much emphasis on the side effects, which are a normal part of vaccine development.

Thrombosis-related complaints have also been reported in connection with the Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen vaccines as well as AstraZeneca, the broadcaster points out.

Immunology professor Marjolein van Egmond told NOS that rare side effects were only to be expected, adding that some Covid-19 patients have also developed thrombosis as well. ‘You can never eliminate all risks,’ she said.

‘You have to make sure that you weigh up the advantages against the disadvantages. And in this case, the risk is very small.’


Meanwhile, has been told by several family doctors that people scheduled to be vaccinated with the AstraZeneca jab are failing to turn up because they are worried about the risks.

The seniors lobby group KBO-PCOB has also urged the government to improve its communications, saying it has been flooded with phone calls and emails from concerned elderly people.

To fill the gaps, some doctors are allowing people not yet scheduled to be vaccinated to turn up at their surgeries in the hope they can get a jab early.



Dutch royals express deepest sympathy at death of ‘lively’ prince Philip

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch royal family have expressed their deep sadness at the news of the death of Britain’s prince Philip, two months ahead of his 100th birthday.

The prince, who married the then-princess Elizabeth in 1947, ‘passed away peacefully this morning at Windsor Castle,’ Buckingham Palace said on Friday. ‘We remember HRH Prince Philip with great respect,’ king Willem-Alexander, queen Maxima and former queen Beatrix said in a joint statement.

‘Throughout his long life, he committed himself with dedication to the British people and to his many duties and responsibilities,’ the statement said. ‘His lively personality never ceased to leave an unforgettable impression.

Our deepest and most heartfelt sympathy goes out to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and all the members of the Royal Family.’

Queen Elizabeth and Philip made official visits to the Netherlands several times and Philip was awarded the order of the Golden Ark by prince Bernhard for his work in nature conservation.



Confusion and questions after Dutch stop using AstraZeneca vaccine on under 60s

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The government’s decision to stop using the AstraZeneca vaccine on people under the age of 60 because of the very minor risk of rare blood clots has led to confusion and questions and will also cause delays in the vaccine roll out, experts say.

The decision goes against the advice of the European Medicines Agency, which said that while there may be a link between a rare form of thrombosis and the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, the advantages of the vaccine outweigh the disadvantages.

The Dutch decision, based on the recommendations of the national health council, has angered some health experts. ‘If you don’t have an alternative, carrying on vaccinating delivers far more than excluding a group,’ Professor Saskia Middelkoop of Radbout MC teaching hospital told the Volkskrant.

‘The [decision to] stop is such a shame, as we are now saving lives,’ Professor Carin Uly-de Groot of Erasmus University told the paper. The risk of dying from coronavirus is 20 times higher than developing this rare form of thrombosis for a woman under the age of 60, she said.

Some 34 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been given in Europe and so far, 169 cases of the rare blood clots have come to light, including 18 deaths. In the Netherlands, where 400,000 people, mainly healthcare workers, have been given the vaccine there have been eight reports and one death.

Despite the decision to stop vaccinating the under 60s with AstraZeneca, health minister Hugo de Jonge said the Netherlands remains on target to ensure every adult who wants to be vaccinated has had at least one shot by early July.

The Netherlands is due to be delivered 11.1 million doses of the Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen before that date, and there are 14.1 million people in the Netherlands on the list to be vaccinated.

Of them, approximately 1.8 million have already been given the jab. But nevertheless, the decision is ‘is a major blow and will lead to delays in the short term,’ vaccine expert and professor Gideon Kersten told broadcaster NOS.


The decision to suspend using the vaccine on the under 60s has also led to anger among some who already had an appointment because they have health issues. ‘I am an adult and perfectly capable of calculating the risk myself,’ one man in his 40s told DutchNews.

The seniors lobby group KBO-PCOB has also urged the government to improve its communications, saying it has been flooded with phone calls and emails from concerned elderly people.

Director Marcel Sturkenboom says he trusts the minister ‘has really good reasons’ and can substantiate why the vaccination of the 60-plus group will continue. ‘But this group is also entitled to good (scientifically substantiated) explanations and more extensive communication than is currently the case,’ he said.

At the moment only people in the 60 to 64 age group are being given the AstraZeneca vaccine in the Netherlands, as well as people with Down’s syndrome, or have serious health risks.



The Netherlands halts use of AstraZeneca jab for the under-60s

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands will no longer vaccinate people under the age of 60 with the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine because of the health risks, caretaker health minister Hugo de Jonge said on Thursday evening.

The minister’s decision is in line with recommendations by the national health council Gezondheidsraad, which rushed out its advice following publication of the European Medicine’s Agency’s position on Wednesday.

De Jonge said the decision had been taken following reports of eight cases of thrombosis in younger women who had been given the AstraZeneca vaccine. One woman died.

Nevertheless, the EMA said on Wednesday that although there may be a link between a rare form of thrombosis and the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, the advantages of the vaccine outweigh the disadvantages.

Despite this, the health council recommended not using the vaccine on people under the age of 60 because they have a higher risk of side effects. Germany, Italy and Spain have taken a similar decision, the health ministry said.

The impact of the decision on the Dutch vaccination programme is still being worked out, but the Netherlands will stick to the vaccination order already agreed, De Jonge said.

‘I still aim to ensure that by mid-May everyone over the age of 60 and people with risky health conditions have had their first vaccination, and that everyone who wants to be vaccinated will have had a jab at least once at the beginning of July,’ De Jonge said.

The EMA said on Wednesday that unusual blood clots with low blood platelets should now be listed as very rare side effects of Vaxzevria, as the AstraZeneca vaccine is now known, the EMA said.

The EMA said it had come to this conclusion after looking at ‘all currently available evidence, including the advice from an ad hoc expert group.’ In total, the EMA experts looked at 86 cases across Europe, of which 18 were fatal.

Some 34 million people in Europe have so far been vaccinated with the AstraZeneca product.



Trust needs to be restored, says Tjeenk Willink as coalition talks restart

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Exploratory talks to form the next Dutch government are restarting on Thursday after a two-week delay caused by a row over an accidentally leaked memo.

Veteran Labour (PvdA) politician Herman Tjeenk Willink will canvas the views of all 17 party leaders elected to parliament on March 17, starting with Sylvana Simons, the sole MP for left-wing group Bij1.

Caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte and leader of the right-wing liberal VVD will be the last person in the door on Friday. Tjeenk Willink told a press conference on Wednesday that he sees his task as identifying the barriers to trust between parties and how they can be removed so that a new coalition can be formed.

He stressed he was not interested in discussing the fate of individual politicians. He said the next government should not be bound by a tightly drafted coalition agreement, which diminishes parliament’s ability to scrutinise and influence its policies.

‘It disturbs the balance of power and makes the opposition redundant,’ he told a press conference on Wednesday.

Clean slate

The 79-year-old was appointed on Tuesday following the resignation of two sets of parliamentary scouts who were supposed to represent the interests of the VVD and D66, the parties expected to form the backbone of the new coalition.

The talks unravelled in the first week when D66 negotiator Kajsa Ollongren accidentally exposed her briefing notes to cameras as she dashed out of the parliament building after being notified of a positive coronavirus test.

The notes included a line suggesting Christian Democrat (CDA) MP Pieter Omtzigt should be given a ‘role elsewhere’, which was eventually traced to Rutte.

The prime minister then narrowly survived a vote of no confidence as MPs said his inability to remember discussing Omtzigt had undermined his credibility.

Support for Rutte

This week, however, Rutte seems back on course to lead a fourth government after his VVD party lined up behind him. As the largest group in parliament with 34 seats, the VVD is seen as indispensable in a coalition which will need at least four parties for a majority.

D66 leader Sigrid Kaag indicated that she was prepared to give the prime minister a chance, a week after saying she would have resigned in his position. She said the talks would start again from scratch with ‘no expectations’, adding: ‘It is up to Mr Rutte to outline how he is going to repair the breach of trust.’

The next coalition will also have to make tough policy choices as the country emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, with the environmental planning agency (PBL) calling for wide-ranging reforms to correct years of delay and neglect.

Planning pressure

As well as the threat of climate change, the Netherlands is suffering from a housing shortage and the urgent need to restructure the agriculture sector so farmers can have clarity about their future.

A million houses need to be built by 2030 to relieve pressure on the western cities and growth spots such as Zwolle and Nijmegen. In other areas where the population is declining land use needs to be diversified as farming is scaled back to make space for renewable energy and recreation.

‘We need to build quickly, but above all carefully,’ David Hamers of the PBL told the Volkskrant. ‘It’s not just about building houses. Living and working need to be combined.

‘The debate right now is mainly around the question of whether to build new homes in the city or turn fields into suburbs. That’s a false distinction. The need is so great and the demand is so diverse that we need to do both.’



Public health body calls for action on unhealthy eating, and related social problems

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Greater efforts should be made to end the continuing health divide in the Netherlands by promoting healthy eating and tackling the societal problems which support it, public health advisory body RVS said in a report out on Wednesday.

Government policy has been too free and easy when it comes to closing the health gap, which the RVS said has been accentuated by the coronavirus crisis. People struggling with problems such as unemployment, low income, debt and an unhealthy living environment are likely to enjoy 15 fewer years in good health and die up to seven years earlier than their more privileged counterparts, the RVS said.

Ending this disadvantage would require a centralised approach, more money and a consistent 15-year programme, starting in the areas with the most pressing problems, the RVS said.

This effort, the agency said, should also be accompanied by a healthy eating campaign. A ban on advertising unhealthy food, lower VAT on vegetables and fruit would be part of the package proposed by the RVS, and, it said, local councils should be allowed to refuse a licence to fast food restaurants in order to promote a healthier living environment.

The RVS also wants the next government to introduce a tax on sugar. Last year health minister Paul Blokhuis said such a tax would not be on the cards in the near future because the effect of the measure has not been proven and he preferred to make agreements with industry about lowering sugar content.

The Netherlands has had a national health plan in place to combat obesity, alcohol and tobacco use since 2018 but has so far failed to engage supermarkets. A critical UNICEF report out in September last year concluded that most of the food aimed at children was too high in sugar, salt, and fats.



D66 MP Vera Bergkamp is the new parliamentary chairwoman

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – D66 MP Vera Bergkamp has won the vote to become the new chairwoman of the lower house of the Dutch parliament, beating sitting chairwoman Khadija Arib (PvdA) and deputy chairman Martin Bosma from the anti-Islam PVV.

Bergkamp took 74 out of 139 votes in the first round, with Arib on 38 and Bosma on 27. In her acceptance speech, Bergkamp stressed that she would chair parliament on behalf of all parties.

‘We face an enormous task,’ she said, before going on to refer to the tax benefit scandal, the planned move of the lower house to a new location while the current building is renovated and the fact there are now 17 parties in parliament.


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