Conservatives defend criticized refugee plan; Labour leader lightens stance

A Filipino girl (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul D. Williams). (A Filipino girl (Picture: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul D. Williams))

The Dutch government's plan to radically change the European asylum policy has gotten a chilly reception in the European Commission. VVD leader Halbe Zijlstra defended the plan in the parliamentary refugee debate with Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Justice State Secretary Klaas Dijkhoff  on Thursday. The opposition parties in the Tweede Kamer are very critical.

The government wants Europe to have a mandatory distribution system for asylum seekers arriving. They also want Europe to be stricter in the selection of refugees they allow to cross the border. The Dutch government wants to only give asylum rights to refugees who can not find a safe place in their own region. Dijkhoff said earlier this week that he will argue for such an approach at the European Council meeting in Brussels next week.

Federica Mogherini, the European Commission's high representative for foreign policy and security, told the Financieele Dagblad that given the precarious situation surrounding the conflict areas, this is an unrealistic approach. "Every attempt to deal with this outside our borders is not going to work", she said. "I would not consider asking Lebanon, Jordan or Turkey to do this. They already take in far more refugees than we do. We would then risk destabilizing more countries and that is not in their interests or ours."

According to Prime Minister Mark Rutte, the government opted for a solution in the short term - accepting the redistribution of refugees already in Europe - and the medium term - creating a safe space in the regions so that the refugees can stay close to their homes. "We want to creat a place in the region where people have perspective, such as education.

Zijlstra told the Kamer on Thursday that the top priority should be to stop people dying while trying to cross into Europe, according to the Volkskrant's live blog on the debate. He feels that the only way to this is to have more people finding shelter in their own regions. Europe should therefore focus on creating safe havens around the conflict areas. So that you an safely shelter people there close to the hot spots. The second is: if this succeeds that there is no right to asylum in Europe itself, but that you can return people to safe places in the region itself."

"We have seen many images of children and adults that have drowned chanceless in the Mediterranean or on trucks in Hungary. Those images are not new. Therefore the VVD presented a plan months ago. The core of this plan is that we care for refugees in their own regions. With that we offer genuine refugees safety and we damn the increasing flow of refugees into Europe", Zijlstra said.

He reiterated that in the plan, the asylum right will only lapse once there are safe havens in the refugee's own region. "I think I'm clear: if there is a safe have in the region, then the right of asylum lapses. Then they do not get in here. If they come anyway, then we will ensure that they return to a safe have in the region." Zijlstra stated.

To the surprise of the opposition parties, coalition party PvdA leader Diederik Samsom lightened his stance on the matter by stating that the Netherlands and Europe should take in "as many refugees as possible". According to him, the pressure in the region in Lebanon is too great. "Please let us not shelter more people in the region, it is already so full there", he said. He clarified by stating he does not want more shelter in regions such as Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, but better shelter. According to him, in the long term this will lead to no more refugees needing to make the dangerous crossing to Europe.