No change on child refugee amnesty, says Dutch prime minister

The government has no intention of changing the current rules for granting residency permits to refugee children who are well-rooted in the Netherlands but do not meet normal requirements, prime minister Mark Rutte said on Monday. The case of Lili and Howick, two children who were set for deportation to Armenia on Saturday but allowed to stay by junior justice minister Mark Harbers at the last minute, is a 'unique case and a unique decision', Rutte told reporters on Monday. 'The junior minister regularly takes unique decisions but these are never spoken about in public,' Rutte said. 'We have a fair and strong asylum policy.' Lili and Howick were told on Saturday they could stay in the Netherlands after  a 10-year asylum procedure. Their mother was picked up a year ago but sent her children into hiding before she left and was deported without them. The children, aged 12 and 13, do not speak Armenian and have never been in the country. There are said to be around 400 children in a similar situation to Howick and Lili on the deportation list. Last week, there were reports that immigration officials picked up an Afghan family with three sons who have been in the Netherlands for at least seven years. They are also due to be sent back to Afghanistan, which the Netherlands considers to be safe. Petition Politicians and celebrities have been urging the government to rethink its child refugee amnesty because of the overly strict rules and over 100,000 people have so far signed a petition calling for change. Children can qualify for the amnesty if they have lived in the Netherlands for more than five years, have been under the supervision of an official organisation and are under the age of 18. Being in touch with local councils and going to school is not sufficient to qualify for the amnesty because these bodies do not have a role in law in immigration policy and are therefore not 'official'. In addition, children are ruled ineligible if their parents have not cooperated with efforts to deport them - which rules out nearly everyone. Cabinet The issue of the child amnesty was a major sticking point in last year's cabinet formation talks. Both the Liberal Democratic party D66 and ChristenUnie had included a pledge to reform the amnesty in their manifestos but gave it up in the political horse trading surrounding the coalition agreement. D66 leader Alexander Pechtold told RTL Nieuws on Monday that asylum procedures must be shortened in future but added there is no reason to break open the coalition deal. 'No case is the same. We have to institutions here which are quite capable of making a judgement and these are the junior minister and the courts,' he said. The Supreme Court ruled last month that there was no legal reason to keep Lili and Howick in the Netherlands because Armenia is a safe country and agreements had been made to make sure the children 'did not end up on the street'  More >

Labour joint top of mayoral appointee list

Support for the Labour party (PvdA) may have collapsed at last year's general election, but the party continues to dominate when it comes to new mayoral and other official appointments. So far this year, 11 Labour party supporters have been named as mayors, the same number as for the right-wing Liberal VVD and well above the number of D66 (7) and CDA (6) appointments, the Volkskrant reported on Thursday. Last year, Labour party members accounted for 18 out of 97 new mayoral roles. Mayors in the Netherlands are crown appointees, based on the advice of the local council, rather than elected. Political scientist Nelleke Vedelaar told the paper that political colours are not as important as fitting the job profile drawn up by local officials. 'The Dutch tend to ignore their mayor's political choice and focus more on their managerial qualities,' Vedelaar said. The new PvdA mayors have been appointed in some of the country's biggest towns and cities: Arnhem, Emmen, Zaanstad, Dordrecht and Groningen. The Netherlands has 380 local authority areas of which 31 have a population of more than 100,000.  More >

No compensation in junta pilot case

The Dutch government says it sees no reason to pay damages to a former Transavia pilot found not guilty last year of involvement in death flights on behalf of the Argentine junta last year. Dutch Argentine pilot Julio Poch had always denied involvement in death flights, in which opponents of the junta (1976-1983) were drugged and thrown from planes. At the end of last year he was cleared by a court in Argentina due to a lack of evidence. His legal team then announced plans to sue the Dutch state. ‘It is important to clarify exactly what happened,’ lawyer Geert-Jan Knoops said in January. ‘We have information that influence was exerted at a high level. We want to hear ministers in a court case. This should never happen again.’ Dutch justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus told MPs on Monday that there is no reason for the state to recognise the damages claim. 'There are no points which suggest the investigation was illegal,' Grapperhuis said. The investigation, he said, was based on witness statements made from people who heard Poch talking about his past. Poch was arrested in Spain in September 2009 while about to make his final flight for Transavia, where he had worked since 2003. There is no extradition treaty between the Netherlands and Argentina and the Dutch authorities had tipped off both Spain and Argentina as to his whereabouts prior to his arrest. Poch was held in custody for eight years prior to the trial taking place. Update, October 30: The Telegraaf reports that the Dutch state has given financial help to the three witnesses against Poch, despite rejecting several claims by Poch for legal support on the grounds there is 'no Dutch interest' in the case.  More >

Claim: Facebook took fake news election ad

Facebook app on mobile phone A Dutch investigative television programme claims that Facebook accepted its fake news advertisements aimed at sabotaging Dutch elections next year. Researchers from Brandpunt+ say they created a fake Facebook account and various adverts claiming that ballot boxes were closed or that party leaders were involved in nefarious activities, to be shown to certain target groups on the day of provincial elections next March. They claim that Facebook accepted all adverts for publication except for one claiming CDA leader Sybrand Buma was manipulating the housing market for personal gain – deemed to be ‘discriminatory.’ ‘Before the adverts went online, I took them off,’ writes one researcher. ‘Spreading fake news in the name of a public broadcaster didn’t seem a good idea, so they didn’t reach anyone.’ Facebook has reportedly told the researchers it is taking the instance ‘very seriously’ and launching an internal investigation into why the other fake news adverts were sanctioned. The Dutch government announced earlier this week that it is launching a campaign to combat fake news around the local and European elections next year. has contacted Facebook to ask for a response to the allegations.  More >

Book containing fake PM speech withdrawn

A book containing 50 of the ‘most touching, best and most inspiring Dutch speeches’ has been removed from the shelves because a speech attributed to former CDA leader and prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende proved to be a fake, Trouw reports. The speech, in which Balkenende speaks nostalgically about the days of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), is in fact a satire published on a left wing activist website in 2006, the paper discovered. Jan-Peter Balkenende who is now a professor of Governance, Institutions and Internationalisation at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, was prime minister from 2002 to 2010. In 2006 he often referred to the ‘VOC mentality’, praising Dutch derring-do but ignoring the exploitation and slavery the Dutch trading company brought to what is now Indonesia. ‘I dream a little of the Golden Age sometimes,’ Balkenende said at the time. ‘The century when this small country worked its way to the top unaided.’ He later apologised for the remarks. Alarm bells did not go off for historian Denise Parengkuan, who compiled the speeches, when she came across the following: ‘It (the VOC) shows what a small country can do. (..) Our heroes from those days Jan Pieterszoon Coen and Michiel de Ruyter had that business instinct, that drive, that VOC mentality of taking what you want (..) They offered many natives new challenges, in the land that we developed for them or in the hereafter.’ Parengkuan admitted she ‘had not checked the speech properly’, Trouw writes. This is not the first time the fake speech has been taken at face value. A recent book on Dutch history, Tot hier en nu verder’ (Until now and beyond) by journalist Cees van Lotringen also contained quotes from the speech and had to be pulped as well. Publisher of the speech book Hans van Maar of Just Publishers told Trouw he was very disappointed. ‘We were very proud of this book. It seems the author did not check the facts. That puts the rest of the books in doubt as well and that is why we have withdrawn it,’ the paper quotes him as saying. The former prime minister, who was offered an apology and a bunch of flowers by the publisher, did not wish to comment, Trouw writes.  More >