Refugees in the '30 and now
Commence on Dutch Alien-act from august 1995
the removal policy, december 1997
Refugees now and thenOn the 9th of november 1938 the "kristallnacht" took place in nazi-germany. As a reaction on the attempt off the jew Herzel Grynszpan to kill Ernst von Rath, member of the german embassy in paris, hundreds of synagogues were set on fire, thousands of shops owned by jews were looted and hundreds of jews were molested some 35 were killed. Every year this night is remembered in many countries including the Netherlands. In 1995 the theme of the remembrance was refugees.
The similarities of the policies concerning refugees in the thirties and in the nineties are striking. The policy in the thirties was aimed at keeping as many refugees out as possible. This policy was justified by two main arguments. The first was the bad economic situation and high number of unemployed in the Netherlands every new refugee would mean an extra burden. Later it was shown that the jewish refugees created jobs. The second argument used was that a rising number of jewish refugees would lead to more anti-semitism. Concerning eastern european jews (mainly from poland) it was said that they "endangered dutch society with its own characteristics". They were stopped at the border or, when they succeeded in entering the Netherlands, expelled.
The underlying reasons were different: anti-semitism of some policymakers, the importance to the economy of trade with germany, the encouraging effect on potential refugees in germany to also leave and the need of politicians and officials check and control (which showed itself through evertightening rules). These same motives still play an important role in the current refugee policies.
A short outline off the policies concerning refugees in the thirties is given below. The first large group of refugees from germany in the thirties was caused by a boycot of jewish shops organised by the nazi government on 1 april 1933. The arrival of these refugees gave rise to the first discussion of the refugee issue in the Dutch parliament. From these discussion and the following reports in the newspapers it can be seen that the dutch were well aware off the situation in germany in 1933 and the following years. Minister of justice van Schaik said about the the german refugees in 1933: " The position of the jews in germany may be deplorable but it takes more than that to be eligible for asylum".
There was a debate in parliament in february 1934 caused by the arrest of thirty immigrants from germany for not having valid papers. The minister said in this debate: " at this moment we are preparing the establishment of an internment camp which should serve as special quarters for refugees which should be considered dangerous from the viewpoint of safety and public order". And about the regime in these camps: " the regime there should not encourage people to stay there as long as possible. The inhabitants should be stimulated to leave our country when they have the chance". In 1936 a bill was passed which made a distinction between refugees that were prosecuted because of their political ideas, religion or race and those that were threatened in their existence. The last category was said to flee only for economic reasons and are not really refugees. Apart from this many political refugees mainly communists an radical socialists were not admitted at all because they were seen as a danger to dutch society.
As far back as 1934 it was made difficult for refugees to get a job because a special permit was needed to work. In 1937 it was made totally impossible. In a bill from van Schaik it was said that it was forbidden to help refugees to get a job or an education. In december 1938 a number of buildings in Hellevoetsluis was appointed to lock up illegal refugees. The town council went through much trouble to get this project in their town. The mayor emphasized the economic importance of getting such a project. Much the same argument is used by the city council of Vlagtwedde with respect to the arrival of a new detention center for refugees in this town in 1996.
After the "anschluss" of austria with germany on 12 march 1938 it was said in a letter from the justice department that refugees from austrai should be refused because the Netherlands had no borders in common with austria. The refugees had to travel through another country, they should apply for asylum there. After the events in the "kristallnacht" the dutch government decided to allow a limited number of refugees entrance despite this rule. This happened after some pressure from the public. The refugees were housed in reception camps. In february 1939 a central refugeecamp was set up. A spot far away from civilisation was deliberately chosen for this. This place at Westerbork was used in the war by the germans as a transit camp for jews on their way to concentration camps. The growing number of jewish refugees from germany after the "kristallnacht" was answered by employing 600 extra policemen at the border. Many refugees were stopped at the border. Exceptions were only made for people who could prove that they lived near the border or those that were in immediate danger of losing their lives. Because many refugees were not allowed into the country the number of them that crossed the border illegally rose. This was answered with even more checks inside the country. Illegal refugees were tracked down with the same methods used nowadays, the so called "flying brigades". In a letter sent by the Attorney general to the border police and national police dated 1939 it is said that: "Because we notice daily that despite the tightened border controls there are still a significant number of refugees crossing the border in secrecy, it is necessary for the public order that as many of these refugees as possible are stopped inside the country". An further on in that same letter: "opportunities to check the presence of illegal refugees are for example the checks of vehicles on the roads to the main cities. Other places of attention can include railwaystations, ships, postoffices and other places where the public meets". This was the last piece of a restrictive refugee policy.
When the situation of the refugees in europe in the thirties is compared with the situation nowadays a lot of similarities can be found. At this moment in france there are lots of immigrants who are treated in a racist way, beaten and arrested because of the intensified control after terrorist attacks by people who call themselves islamic. Everywhere in europe internment camps are set up for refugees. Improper use is being made of the difference between "real" refugees and economic refugees with the aim to keep out as many refugees as possible. Reports by the media the language and imagery used al seem to be a copy of what happened in the thirties. In those days the government also talked about "floods" of refugees. Not much is left from the image that the Netherlands treats her refugees in a tolerant, humane and open way. What arises now is a pragmatic policy mainly determined by political-economic factors. The story of the refugees and why the fled does not seem to matter that much. That was the case then and it still is.