Children's pardon causing conflict in Dutch government

Protest against the deportation of Armenian kids Howick and Lili, 12 Aug 2017
Protest against the deportation of Armenian kids Howick and Lili, 12 Aug 2017Photo: @DefenceChildren / Twitter

On Saturday coalition party CDA announced that the party wants to extend the children's pardon, joining the D66 and ChristenUnie who have been calling for this for some time. The VVD is now the only one of the four coalition parties who wants to stick to the agreement made in the Rutte III coalition agreement, which states that the previous government's children's pardon will remain unchanged, the Volkskrant reports.

Left-wing opposition parties GroenLinks and PvdA also support a more generous children's pardon. With their help, the CDA, D66 and ChristenUnie can get majority support this. On Saturday CDA parliamentarian Madeleine van Toorenburg and D66 MP Maarten Groothuizen announced a proposal that will soften the "definitive regulation" for those who now want to qualify for a children's pardon. There are currently some 400 children who have been living in the Netherlands for five or more years without a residency permit and have become rooted in Dutch society. 

On Saturday, immediately after the CDA and D66 announced their proposal,  VVD State Secretary Mark Harbers of Justice and Security said that the government will stick to the agreements made in the coalition agreement, according to A committee is currently investigating the problems in the Dutch asylum system, and Harbers wants to await the outcome of this investigation before making any changes.

But ChristenUnie believes that the Netherlands should stop deporting children for the time being. "Three of the four coalition parties now say that the children's pardon is too strict. We therefore have to quickly sit down to discuss it", ChristenUnie MP Joel Voordewind said to Trouw on Monday. The investigation results are only expected in around six months' time. "We need to clarify things more quickly and not leave children in uncertainty for another six months", he said.

Children's rights organization Defense for Children is also calling for a "deportation halt for rooted children". Especially given the fact that an Armenian family is set to be deported on Monday. The family includes children of 8, 5, and 3 years old. All three children were born in the Netherlands. The family lived in an asylum center in Emmen, but is currently in a deportation center in Zeist. According to RTL Nieuws, they are scheduled to be on a flight to Armenia at 1:10 p.m. on Monday. 

"Today, a family with three children threatens to be deported even though they have been here for eight years. It is incomprehensible that there is a majority in parliament to adjust the children's pardon, but in the meantime children are still deported", Martine Goeman of Defense for Children said to 

GroenLinks parliamentarian Bram van Oijk asked State Secretary Harbers not to go through with this deportation. "Now that there is a clear majority for a more generous children's pardon, I ask Mark Harbers to cancel the planned deportation of three Armenian children and their parents on Monday", Van Oijk wrote on Twitter. "Pending new policy, children should not be deported."

Figures from the Dutch immigration and naturalization service IND show that the vast majority of children's pardon applications are rejected, reports. In 2016 only one child was given a children's pardon out of 120 applications. Last year the children's pardon, and the Dutch asylum system in general, again came under fire following the case of Armenian children Lili and Howick. After living in the Netherlands for 10 years, the two Armenian children were set to be deported, a year after their mother was put out of the Netherlands. Under immense social pressure, State Secretary Harbers, who is responsible for Asylum, decided to make an exception for them and grant them the children's pardon in September.

Following Lili and Howick's pardon, Harbers said that it is "precisely the intention" that not many child asylum seekers qualify for the children's pardon. The State Secretary pointed out that the temporary children's pardon in 2013 had a wide reach, but stricter rules apply now. On the one hand this is to create no false hope for child asylum seekers. On the other hand, it is to ensure that new asylum seekers don't stretch out their asylum procedure in order to qualify for the pardon.