Child migrants are being used as a bargaining chip: Dutch opposition

Tweede Kamer
The Chairman's seat at the Tweede Kamerphoto: JanKranendonk / DepositPhotos

While the majority of the opposition parties in parliament is pleased with the expansion of the children's pardon, the government parties still faced strong criticism during a parliamentary debate on the matter on Wednesday. Opposition parties are particularly dissatisfied about the decision to take in fewer recognized asylum seekers from the United Nations, reports.

On Tuesday evening State Secretary Mark Harbers of Justice and Security, responsible for Asylum, presented the agreement reached on extending the current children's pardon. This compromise was made after a week of talks among coalition parties VVD, CDA, D66 and ChristenUnie. The coalition parties agreed to reassess the cases of around 700 child asylum seekers who were not given refugee status, but have become rooted in the Netherlands, with more leniency. It is expected that around 90 percent of these kids, and their parents, will be allowed to stay in the Netherlands. 

But once these cases were reassessed, the children's pardon will be abolished completely. The power to make an exception for extenuating circumstances will move from the State Secretary of Justice and Security to the head of the Netherlands' immigration and naturalization service IND. And the number of recognized asylum seekers that the Netherlands will take in each year will be reduced by a third. The IND will also get extra money to speed up the asylum procedure, so that no new group of asylum children can become rooted in the Netherlands with no hope of staying.

GroenLinks parliamentarian Bram van Oijk called it incomprehensible that the coalition decided to reduce annual intake of recognized asylum seekers selected by the UN from 750 to 500, in exchange for more rooted children being allowed to stay in the Netherlands. He called this "horse trading". The SP called it "embarrassing". According to MP Jasper van Dijk, this is "a bitter tradeoff" to keep the VVD happy.

Populist party PVV was also outraged by the agreement, albeit for different reasons. PVV leader Geert Wilders accused the VVD of folding to the CDA, D66 and ChristenUnie. He pointed out that the VVD pleaded against the children's pardon multiple times in the past, because that rewards ignoring judicial decisions. Wilders called the VVD a group of "quitters and cowards". He filed a motion of no confidence against the government, but was only supported by other populist party FvD.

"Who is proud of this?" Van Oijk asked in parliament on Wednesday, according to the newspaper. According to the green MP, this government and the coalition parties always said that there is room in the Netherlands to support "real refugees". 

The Children’s Pardon applies to the children of asylum seekers and unaccompanied minors without a residency permit who have lived in the Netherlands for at least five years, even if their asylum application was rejected. Children qualify for the pardon if they meet a set of 12 criteria related to the child’s birth, the family’s asylum procedure, and continued contact with Dutch authorities. The immediate families of children who are granted the pardon may also qualify for legal residency.

VD leader Klaas Dijkhoff explained his party's position. "We have always been cautions with resettlement. We never said that we want to take people from the region." According to Dijkhoff, the VVD is satisfied with taking in 500 refugees per year.

The D66 called this part of the agreement "sour". ChristenUnie parliamentarian Joost Voordewind said that his party made this concession "with pain in the heart". The CDA supports this decision.

There were also questions about the discretionary power to make exceptions for extenuating circumstances being moved from the State Secretary to the IND. The coalition wants to do this so that distressing cases are no longer a subject of political discussion. But the left-wing opposition parties wonder if this will have any effect. The State Secretary will remain responsible for these decisions, because the IND falls under the State Secretary's political responsibility. 

It is also uncertain whether the agreement will actually ensure that there is no new cases of child asylum seekers becoming rooted in the Netherlands with no hope of staying. The IND will get extra money to hire extra staff in order to speed up the procedures. But whether this will be successful remains to be seen. "This agreement stands or falls in the improvement of the procedures", PvdD parliamentarian Eva Akerboom said. In the mean time, asylum seekers can fall through the cracks. And if that happens, a new pardon will be necessary, she said.