Holland Launches the Immigrant Quiz
Holland Launches the Immigrant Quiz
By: Nicola Smith
Date: March 12, 2006
Source: Smith, Nicola. "Holland Launches the Immigrant Quiz." The Times (March 12, 2006).
About the Author: Nicola Smith is a reporter for The Times, a daily newspaper published in the United Kingdom since 1785.
The article reports on the introduction in March 2006 of a compulsory civic integration examination as part of the application procedure for immigration to the Netherlands. The test, which would take place in the Dutch embassy in the applicant's country of origin, would involve watching a controversial video about the more liberal aspects of life in the permissive society of the Netherlands, such as nudity and homosexuality, and being tested on Dutch culture and history. Prospective immigrants would also be required to pass a Dutch language examination. The proposed tests reflected new hard-line immigration policies being adopted in the Netherlands by the center-right coalition government elected to power in 2003.
Until this time, the Netherlands had a fairly liberal immigration policy. Traditionally, most of the country's immigrants were migrants from its former colonies such as Surinam and the Antilles or guest workers from Turkey and Morocco who were brought in to solve labor shortages after the second word war. From the 1990s onwards, the majority of immigrants were European Union (EU) nationals, who could enter and live in the Netherlands without restriction, and large numbers of asylum seekers and refugees, mainly from the Middle East and Eastern Europe. By 2002, eighteen percent of the Netherlands population of sixteen million had been born outside the country.
Although the Netherlands' immigration policies were not very restrictive in the past, making it relatively easy for migrant workers and their families to settle in the country, immigrants have never integrated well into Dutch society, and the government had made little effort to assimilate them. On the contrary, immigrants had been encouraged to preserve their own cultural identities, in much the same way as the Dutch Protestant and Catholic communities had traditionally formed different "pillars" in society, with their own schools, churches and other social and economic institutions. This non-assimilation approach resulted in the development of immigrant enclaves and in the exclusion of many immigrants from opportunities to gain the education and skills needed to succeed economically. On average, immigrants attain much lower educational levels than the native Dutch population and are three times more likely to be unemployed. This situation has been reinforced by the existence in the Netherlands of a very generous welfare system, which has enabled immigrants to live comfortably there without any need to learn the language or enter the labor market. In the 1990s, targeted integration policies were introduced that were intended to help immigrants learn the Dutch language, correct educational shortcomings, and help immigrants to acquire job-related skills, but have had very limited success.
Rising levels of unemployment and economic stagnation in the 1990s led many native Dutch people to become resentful about the large and visible immigrant populations, who they blamed for their country's difficulties. The consequence of this resentment was an increasing number of racially-motivated hate crimes, with Muslims especially targeted after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. There were also increasing numbers of attacks by young Muslims on the homosexual community, on the Netherlands' Jewish community, and on those perceived to be critical of Islam. In 2004, a radical Dutch film-maker, Theo van Gogh, was murdered by a Muslim radical after the release of his film "Submission," which criticized the treatment of women in Islamic cultures. The Somali-born ex-Muslim woman Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who had written the film script, and was at the time a member of Parliament in the Netherlands, also received death threats and was forced into hiding.
The center-right coalition government that took power in 2003 under Jan Peter Bakenenede shifted the immigration policy focus from integration to tough immigration control, in response to increasing concerns about racial and religious-related violence and the increasing size of the immigrant population. Soon after taking up power, the government announced plans to evict failed asylum seekers from temporary housing and deport them to their home countries, to introduce the mandatory citizenship tests and integration programs, and other hard-line policy measures to curb levels of immigration to the Netherlands.
TWO MEN kissing in a park and a topless woman bather are featured in a film that will be shown to would-be immigrants to the Netherlands.
The reactions of applicants—including Muslims—will be examined to see whether they are able to accept the country's liberal attitudes.
From this Wednesday, the DVD—which also shows the often crime-ridden ghettos where poorer immigrants might end up living—will form part of an entrance test, in Dutch, covering the language and culture of Holland.
Those sitting the test will be expected to identify William of Orange and to know which country Crown Princess Maxima comes from (Argentina) and whether hitting women and female circumcision are permitted.
Muslim leaders in Holland say the film is offensive. "It really is a provocation aimed to limit immigration. It has nothing to do with the rights of homosexuals. Even Dutch people don't want to see that," said Abdou Menebhi, the Moroccan-born director of Emcemo, an organisation that helps immigrants to settle.
He added: "They are trying to find every pretext to show that people should not come to the Netherlands because they are fundamentalist or not emancipated. They confront people with these things and then judge them afterwards."
Famile Arslan, 34, an immigration lawyer of Turkish origin, agreed. "I have lived here for 30 years and have never been witness to two men kissing in the park. So why are they confronting people with that?" she said.
She accused the government of preaching tolerance about civil rights while targeting non-westerners with harsh and discriminatory immigration curbs.
The new test—the first of its kind in the world—marks another step in the transformation of Holland from one of Europe's most liberal countries to the one cracking down hardest on immigration.
Rita Verdonk, the immigration minister known as Iron Rita, has introduced compulsory integration classes, higher age limits for marriage to people from abroad and the removal of residency permits if immigrants commit petty crimes. She has also talked of banning the burqa.
The measures were prompted in part by outrage over the 2004 murder of Theo Van Gogh, who had made a film about the oppression of women in Muslim communities.
Applicants will sit the exam at one of 138 embassies around the world. They will answer 15 minutes of questions and those who pass the first stage will have to complete two "citizenship" tests over five years and swear a pledge of allegiance to Holland and its constitution.
The centre-right government of Jan Peter Balkenende, the prime minister, believes the tests will provide an objective way of assessing the suitability of applicants by gauging how well prepared they are to make the transition to Dutch life and their willingness to integrate.
Critics complain that people living in the mountains of Morocco or rural villages in Pakistan will not be able to make the long journey to cities for Dutch language lessons. According to Instituut Oranje, a Dutch language school, someone with a low level of education would require 250 hours of tuition, costing £1,200, to pass the tests.
The total bill of £1,495—including £55 for a preparatory test pack and DVD and £240 for the exam—makes the process unaffordable for many.
Dirk Nieuwboer, a Dutch journalist based in Istanbul, said the multiple-choice cultural test included a question about how to behave in a cafe if two men at the next table started kissing. "There was another question about which former Dutch colony a particular spice came from," said Nieuwboer. "Most Dutch people don't know these things."
However, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, a socialist from the parliament's immigration committee, said the film had been created to help prepare people for "open-minded" attitudes on issues such as homosexuality. "We have lots of homo-discrimination, especially by Muslim youngsters who harass gay men and women on the streets. It is an issue here."
A spokeswoman for Verdonk said an edited version of the DVD would be available for showing in Middle Eastern countries such as Iran where it would be illegal to possess images of homosexuality.
Controversy over the proposed citizenship tests and other hard-line immigration policies was a leading factor in the collapse of Bakenenede's government in June 2006. Many officials in the city governments had refused to co-operate with the arrangements for deporting asylum seekers, and there had been international outcry over the citizenship tests. The government finally collapsed when the smallest party in the coalition, D-66, refused to work with Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk, in protest at her hard-line immigration policies and her decision to revoke the citizenship of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A temporary government was established at the request of Queen Beatrix under former Christian Democrat Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers, and a general election is scheduled for November 2006.
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