Asylum debate violence prompts Dutch leaders' call for calm

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Almost all party leaders in the Tweede Kamer, lower house of parliament, released a joint statement against the violent escalation seen during refugee discussions in the Netherlands over the past weeks. They call on their voters to show more mutual understanding and tolerance and not to confuse threats and insults with debate.

The letter was written on Tuesday on the initiative of GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver, after party member in Wormerland Harold Halewijn's cars were set on fire during the early hours of Tuesday morning. On Tuesday night Wormerland had a resident's meeting scheduled to discuss the possibilities of sheltering refugees and residency permit holders in the municipality.

Later on Tuesday the VVD announced that party leader Halbe Zijlstra has also been threatened. According to the Volkskrant, Zijlstra received a threatening letter after making headlines with his plea for more austere asylum reception.

There have been a number of serious incidents surrounding the refugee debate in the country over the past few weeks, including in Oranje, Steenbergen and Woerden. Officials in both Rijssen and Rijswijk were threatened after the respective municipalities agreed to taking in more refugees.

A number of Ministers, including Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Home Affairs Minister Ronald Plasterk, have spoken out against the threats and violence. Now the parliamentary party leaders have joined the call. The letter is signed by Halbe Zijlstra of the VVD, Diederik Samsom of the PvdA, Emile Roemer of the SP, Sybrand Buma of the CDA, Alexander Pechtold of the D66, Arie Slob of the ChristenUnie, Kees van der Staaij of the SGP and Marianne Thieme of the PvdD. It is even signed by PVV leader Geert Wilders, who was all in favor of protests against refugees in Steenbergen a few weeks ago.

"In recent weeks it has been one incident after another. A council meeting had to be cancelled due to the intimidating atmosphere. Information evenings for citizens are shouted down by people with whom no decent conversation is possible", the political leaders write. "Concerned citizens are being branded racists. People swear, rant and wish the most horrible things on each other as they face off during demonstrations. Anonymous threats via email and social media are increasing, it seems. People behaving in this way, whatever viewpoint they have, are taking away freedom."

"Our call on everyone who wants to have his voice heard: do not confuse threats and insults with arguments. Let each other speak, even though you disagree terribly with each other. And stay away from our representatives, who work day in day out for the benefit of their community. We disagree about a lot of things, but on this we agree: in the Netherlands we have a debate without threats, intimidation and violence." the leaders write.

The only party leaders who did not sign the public letter are as follows:
Tunahan Kuzu - leader of Groep Kuzu/Ozturk, which broke away from the PvdA. The group represents two seats in the Tweede Kamer.
Louis Bontes, breakaway from the VVD, represents 2 seats.
Ronald van Vliet, breakaway from the VVD, represents 1 seat.
Henk Krol, 50Plus leader, represents 1 seat
Norbert Klein, breakaway from 50Plus, represents 1 seat.
Johan Houwers, breakaway from the VVD, represents 1 seat.