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Political framing: migration figures

Following the fall of the fourth Rutte cabinet, Dutch Minister of Justice and Security Dilan Yesilgöz addressed the Dutch media about the ‘influx’ of family reunification applications by asylum permit holders. In her view, it would put enormous pressure on Dutch society and could jeopardise security. Dr Mark Klaassen, Assistant Professor in Immigration Law and a member of the Dutch Advisory Council on Migration, says that while he doesn’t have figures to hand, he does have serious doubts about Yesilgöz's comment. He spoke to Dutch daily newspaper NRC.

Malleability of migration policy

Klaassen is troubled by politicians who ‘abuse’ migration purely for their own political gain. Since a parliamentary debate on family reunification figures was voted out, the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) decided to publish exact figures in mid-February. Since 2019, 350 family reunification applications have been submitted, of which 10 were approved. Klaassen observes that Yesilgöz's comment therefore appears to be a huge exaggeration, while the damage caused by ‘months of publicity has already been done’. He accuses politicians of ‘giving too much credence to the malleability of migration policy’. Klaassen also gives the example of Member States opting out of European migration rules, which he says is ‘completely unthinkable’ as it would require approval by all Member States.

Staggered requests

The family members of asylum permit holders are permitted to come to the Netherlands through a family reunification procedure. Someone who has been reunified with family in the Netherlands has the option to apply for asylum in the Netherlands in their own right so that their right to stay does not depend on their relationship with the asylum permit holder. A reunified family member with their own asylum permit can then submit a family reunification application for another family member. This is known as a staggered application within the family reunification procedure. The IND says that this is ‘undesirable but not prohibited’.

In NRC, Yesilgöz's spokesperson says that Dutch social benefits, the Dutch definition of a ‘nuclear family’ (kerngezin) and the option of family reunification following an initial family reunification render the Netherlands more appealing than neighbouring countries. However, Klaassen considers this pull factor negligible in light of the figures.

NRC reports that various parties are in favour of reintroducing the ‘two status’ asylum system, which makes a distinction between political refugees and war refugees. However, no agreement has been reached on this as yet. Klaassen says that ‘scrapping that system has saved the IND and the judiciary a huge amount of work’. Germany introduced this system in 2015, resulting in overwhelming numbers of asylum applications.

The legitimacy of policy

The issue of family reunification has been a topic of regular debate since 2022, and Dr Klaassen was awarded his PhD for his thesis on the same topic back in 2015. Given the current problems at the asylum centre in Ter Apel, the family reunification law has been suspended by the Dutch cabinet. Lawyers are usually reluctant to make bold statements on the legitimacy of policy. Klaassen concludes, ‘But when it came to this issue, it was crystal clear. Everyone knew that the asylum situation was untenable.’

More information

Read the full NRC article (in Dutch, €)

Photo: Kylo through Unsplash

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