Members of the ruling VVD party have overwhelmingly endorsed a law that will allow the government to force local councils to accommodate asylum seekers.
More than three-quarters of delegates at the party’s autumn conference backed asylum minister Eric van der Burg’s plan, which he says will ensure refugees are distributed evenly around the country.
The vote ends weeks of turmoil within the VVD over the law, which some factions said conflicted with the party’s liberal principles by imposing the cabinet’s will on local authorities.
Van der Burg has said enforcement will be a last resort if negotiations with councils fail to create the 55,000 extra places that the government estimates will be needed next year. Councils have also been promised a €2,500 bonus for every place they provide for a minimum of five years.
The minister said after the vote that he was relieved to have secured the support of his party’s membership for the law, which he hopes to pass through parliament by the end of the year. All four coalition parties are now set to back the plan.
The VVD’s parliamentary group had threatened to withdraw its support for the bill unless the cabinet agreed to put stronger limits on the number of asylum seekers arriving in the Netherlands.
Prime minister Mark Rutte flew back from the COP27 climate summit in Sharm El Sheikh two weeks ago to persuade his colleagues to back the measure, but still had to convince rank and file members at the weekend.
He told delegates at the conference in Rotterdam that the party would work to reduce the ‘influx’ of asylum seekers ‘substantially’. ‘Otherwise we can’t go on like this in this country.’
Delegates who supported the measure told the conference that helping people in need went hand in hand with the need to control numbers.
Koen Schuiling, who as mayor of Groningen has been directly involved in dealing with the ongoing crisis at the refugee reception centre in Ter Apel,’ said communities in the north stood ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with asylum seekers, ‘because of our humanitarian and liberal values.’
Former justice minister Klaas Dijkhoff said the law was needed to ‘nudge’ local authorities into helping to resolve chronic overcrowding Ter Apel, where people have had to sleep on the verge outside the reception centre because there is no space inside.
‘The inflow of asylum seekers was very high in 2015 as well. I didn’t have a distribution law and it just about worked out. Some councils need a nudge. It helps.’
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