Migration in an open society – a Dutch Christian-Democratic Perspective

Gerd Leers is the Dutch Minister for Immigration and Asylum, in a government coalition between the Christian Democratic Party (CDA) and the Liberal Party (VVD), supported by Geert Wilders’ party. Leers is a CDA Minister, and he acknowledges that it was hard for him to accept this post in this government, given his fundamental differences with the far right that dominates much of the public debate, with a language that constantly borders racism (according to the verdict of the Dutch court).

The political and ideological struggles with the migration debate are very well articulated the Autumn 2011 issue of Christen Democratische Verkenningen, the journal of the scientific institute of the CDA (co-edited by my former neighbor and good friend in The Hague, and in which my partner explains why she decided she wanted to leave the Netherlands). The challenges for Christian Democrats, who have been a cornerstone of both the Dutch consensual politics and multi-culturalism that are now so much under threat, are very evident, and this journal  is an invaluable contribution to a more balanced and open debate that is needed.

The journal also illustrates one of the key shortcomings in the debate, ever since 9/11 it seems, of the absence of perspectives of  immigrants and ‘allochtonen’. The right-wing populism continues to maintain that there is a need to be allowed to talk about the problems of immigrants and non-ethnic Dutch in the Netherlands. I suspect this conflicts completely with the  perspective of many of the immigrants. Research has shown that discrimination in labor markets  is common. Many people of non-Dutch origin face racism on a daily basis, including – I understand from conversations – in public institutions. My own experience with the integration bureaucracy also made me deeply aware of the different treatment that immigrants must be experiencing. While the Dutch majority continues to debate the need for integration, many of the immigrants I spoke to perceive that the majority does not really want them to integrate.

Aniek Smit and Wim Willems discuss in an interesting contribution to the journal the dilemmas posed by the Dutch policies targeted at knowledge migrants. They rightly wonder how immigrants perceive a policy that values their hands and brains, but not their culture, habits, and indeed as person.Smit and Willems stress that cities like the Hague have active policies that support ‘expats’ (who according to city communication ‘do not have to integrate). For us, and my partner in particular, there was no clearer demonstration of how she was treated as second-class citizen: where I, ironically happened to become classified as expat, for whom the city makes small symbolic gestures like discounts for activities in the city (displayed in the Stadhuis, for example), for the other immigrants like her (even if she has two children with a Dutch passport), she was not entitled to these benefits, and  the ‘services’ consisted of the deeply insulting bureaucracy called integration.

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