A plan to make new migrants sign a declaration promising to observe Dutch customs and values has been widely denounced as ‘worthless’.
Deputy prime minister and newly appointed Labour party (PvdA) leader Lodewijk Asscher said the document would make immigrants more aware of their social responsibilities. Under Asscher’s plan new arrivals from outside the European Union would be required to sign within a year of registering with a municipality or risk a fine of €340.
But critics told De Volkskrant the pledge was effectively worthless if migrants signed merely in order to avoid a penalty. They also questioned if a year was long enough for people arriving in the country, sometimes with no Dutch language skills, to understand what they were consenting to.
In a voluntary pilot scheme carried out by 18 municipalities using refugees, 17% of participants said they only signed because they were asked to by the local authority. ‘A majority of refugees had only a limited understanding of the content and significance of this document,’ said researchers who reviewed the scheme.
Although the declaration was drawn up by central government, it would be left to municipalities to decide how to educate migrants on their rights and responsibilities.
The Council of State and the national advisory committee on refugee issues said the document overlapped with the integration test, which is already mandatory and includes questions on customs and values. Opposition politicians, meanwhile, said it was ‘symbolic’ and ‘toothless’ scheme.
VVD MP Malik Azmani said: ‘Instead of doing a course of signing a declaration, we believe more in the idea that people earn their rights by contributing to society, for example by working or being active as a volunteer.’
The Dutch refugee council (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland) said migrants were being asked to uphold higher standards of social involvement than many native Dutch people observe. That concern was shared by D66 MP Paul van Meenen, who said: ‘The obligations in this declaration will create first and second-class citizens.’
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