Top News

Netherlands considers benefit freeze for citizens who join militants

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government proposed on Wednesday freezing social security and student benefits for citizens who join militant groups such as Islamic State, in a bid to stem the numbers of young people leaving for conflict zones.

The move was the latest in a flurry of measures - including a partial burqa ban - in a country where polls have shown a hardening attitude towards immigrants.

Governments across Europe have said they are worried about the risk of citizens returning radicalized to launch attacks at home.

“Anyone who leaves to support ISIS (Islamic State), or to marry a jihadi fighter, will be confronted with the freezing of their government financing,” the government said in a statement.

Europe’s police organization, Europol, said in January as many as 5,000 Europeans had joined fighting in Syria - though Foreign Minister Bert Koenders last month said only 190 Dutch citizens had left.

“It’s symbolic politics,” said Simon Otjes, a researcher at the University of Groningen, comparing the measure to the burqa ban which was imposed in May even though very few women in the Netherlands wear the garment.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte caused a storm in March when he said he would prefer to see Dutch citizens who left for Iraq or Syria “fall in battle” than return to the Netherlands.

Prosperous and fast-growing in the years after World War Two, the Netherlands opened its doors to tens of thousands of immigrants from Turkey and Morocco, earning a reputation as one of Europe’s most tolerant societies.

Mainstream parties have since faced strong competition from the anti-Muslim Freedom Party of far-right politician Geert Wilders.

Parties, organizations and citizens have a month to say what they think about the proposal before it goes on to become law.

Reporting By Yoruk Bahceli, editing by Thomas Escritt and Andrew Heavens