National ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen has said it can be difficult to find people who have experienced discrimination and racism because his body’s Dutch website – following government guidelines – is not translated into multiple languages.
Van Zutphen told NU.nl that in his experience, people with complaints do not always know where to go. He said that it would help if the website were available in Arabic and Turkish, for instance, and also in a read-aloud version.
‘Of course, this is a problem,’ he said. ‘We want to ensure we know what is wrong and that we are always there for people who have unjustly been discriminated against.
‘If I just sit behind my desk and wait until somebody with a complaint about discrimination comes to me, then I will probably be waiting for a long time.’
He told NU.nl that concrete examples of racism and discrimination by the state against its citizens include the childcare benefit affair – where people, especially dual nationals, were unjustly accused of fraud and forced to pay back all benefit ever received.
Some were financially ruined, their families devastated, and full compensation is still being calculated. The highest Dutch court has been accused of illegal discrimination and has apologised for failing to offer the parents ‘better legal protection’.
‘We have discovered that because of their racial origin or surname, people have been given a label ‘probably suspicious,’” said Van Zutphen. ‘The government is full of prejudice. This is deadly serious.’
Last year he complained that he had not been taken seriously either for years, when he tried to raise awareness of what was going wrong in the tax office. This scandal affected tens of thousands of people and was eventually considered so serious it caused the fall of government.
The prime minister has recently recognised that racism is a ‘systematic problem’ in the Netherlands. However, as a junior social affairs minister in 2007, he himself was reprimanded by a court for encouraging discrimination against people of Somali origin, after asking local councils for extra fraud checks on some 25,000 people.
Van Zutphen told NU.nl that as well as proactively encouraging people to approach the ombudsman – which is there to defend the citizen against governmental malpractice – he wants to tackle institutional racism in the police and border police.
The National Ombudsman has told DutchNews.nl that it does not translate its Dutch-based services into multiple languages due to a national policy of ‘don’t translate, unless [there’s a good reason to do this].’ Services for the Caribbean islands of Bonaire, St Eustatius and Saba are, however, also provided in English and Papiamentu.
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