World News

Dutch coalition government split over asylum seeker policy

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Liberal Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday sought to resolve a dispute within his centre-right coalition government over providing shelter to thousands of failed asylum seekers.

More meetings with the junior coalition partner Labour Party had been scheduled for Thursday afternoon after talks ran past midnight on Wednesday, but the discussions were postponed until Friday, the parties said. No explanation was provided.

The issue deeply divides the ruling parties and has the potential to trigger a political crisis. The government teetered on the verge of collapse late last year after a healthcare bill was blocked in the Senate.

Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) does not want to provide basic food and shelter to undocumented, or failed asylum seekers because of concerns the policy would attract more migrants.

The left-of-centre Labour Party, which shares power with the VVD, backs a policy of “bed, bath and bread” for people in need, even if they have been refused asylum.

A small nation of 17 million people, the Netherlands welcomed large numbers of migrants for decades after World War Two, mostly from Turkey and Morocco. But it has become less accommodating amid a public backlash over Muslim immigration and increasing stresses on the social welfare system.

There are between 10,000-20,000 illegal, or irregular migrants, in the Netherlands, Dutch media reported. The Ministry for Security and Justice was not available to comment.

The issue of how to treat asylum seekers resurfaced this week after a resolution on the matter was adopted by the Council of Europe, Europe’s leading human rights body, on Wednesday, which has been interpreted differently by the coalition parties.

“We are pleased with the (Council of Europe) resolution,” Erin Green of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), which lodged the complaint against the Netherlands, said on Thursday.

“It is our hope that Wednesday’s resolution will increase momentum toward a more generous implementation of the European Social Charter.”

The charter is a Council of Europe treaty that guarantees social and economic human rights.

Last year, U.N. human rights experts and the European Committee of Social Rights, a body that oversees the charter, found that the Netherlands was violating the human right to emergency assistance.

Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Alison Williams