VVD leader criticized in call to end Refugee Convention

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))

VVD leader Halbe Zijlstra wants to get rid of the Refugee Convention. He wants to restrict the right to asylum to the refugee's own region and so prevent refugees from all over the world from applying for asylum in the Netherlands. His statements led to criticism from a number of experts.

When the Refugee Convention was established in 1951 it stated that refugees are entitled to shelter in their own region. In 1967 it was changed to refugees having right to asylum world wide. Zijlstra wants to go back to the original convention, he said in an interview with the Volkskrant.

"The funny thing is that we ratified it in Europe, but the rest of the world did not do so. So the world can apply for asylum here, but not the other way around. We can not solve the world's problems in Europe", Zijlstra said. According to him, it is "completely understandable" why refugees from Africa and the Middle-East flood to Europe. "But we must adapt our policies, otherwise it is untenable."

Jasper Kuipers, deputy director of the Dutch council for refugees Vluchtelingenwerk, called Zijlstra's statements "nonsense" on radio program Dit is de Dag. "A very bad Christmas present for refugees", he said, pointing out that the majority of UN member states signed the Convention, and not just Europe as Zijlstra claims. According to him, the best way to face the refugee problem is by working together. "Without the Convention, everyone works on their own." This will make the VVD's dream of arranging shelter in the refugees' own regions even more difficult.

Tilburg immigration law professor Anton van Kalmthout sees little merit in the Zijlstra's strategy. "90 percent of refugees are sheltered in the region. Countries like Turkey and Lebanon can not handle another million refugees", he said to the Volkskrant. "Especially since the West renounced giving sufficient support to make shelter humane in any way. If you don't offer the minimum in the shelter, they will keep coming. Then you can indeed change the convention, but the only thing this achieves is a massive problem with undocumented migrants."

Thomas Spijkerboer, professor of migration law at the Vrije Universiteit, told the Volkskrant that Zijlstra's interpretation of the 1951 treat is incorrect. That Convention focused specifically on the refugees that flooded Europe since World War II and only recognized refugees registered before January 1951. He believes that the problem does not lie with the Convention, but with international political relations. "Shelter in the region has by our standing policy for 35 years now. The problem is that countries such as Pakistan, Turkey and Lebanon will not cooperate if we want to send migrants back, because they have already taken in many more refugees than we have. Tinkering with the protocol will put negotiations with these countries under pressure. I really think that we will shoot ourselves in the foot with this."