THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders called the wave of refugees pushing into Europe an “Islamic invasion”, during a parliamentary debate on Thursday that exposed deep divisions over how the Netherlands should respond to the crisis.
In a debate a day after European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker appealed to EU members to share out refugees arriving on the bloc’s fringes, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the EU should help them in camps closer to their country of origin, rather than in Europe.
Angela Merkel, leader of Germany which is taking in far more refugees than any other EU country, wants the rest of the EU to accept quotas of asylum seekers. The conservative Dutch government says it is only willing to take in more if all EU states agree.
Wilders, who is outside the government but whose party is the most popular in opinion polls, called the wave of refugees arriving on the EU’s Mediterranean shores and traveling north “an Islamic invasion”.
“Masses of young men in their twenties with beards singing Allahu Akbar across Europe. It’s an invasion that threatens our prosperity, our security, our culture and identity,” he said.
Tens of thousands of people, many fleeing war and Islamic State in Syria, are trying to get to Germany and other EU countries where they hope they will be welcomed.
Rutte said the Netherlands, which assumes the rotating EU presidency in January, wants Europe to invest in centers outside Europe.
At those sites, which he called “UNHCR plus” facilities in a reference to the U.N. refugee agency, people would have access to education and jobs.
“We want to help to relieve the problems in the region by making the existing facilities more manageable,” he said.
“It will take energy and money and manpower, but we can work toward a situation where there is more security in the region and we can avoid people boarding boats to Europe,” he said.
The idea that such conditions could be created for millions of refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey was dismissed by Alexander Pechtold, a member of centrist opposition party Democrats 66, as “an illusion”.
Rutte’s fragile coalition government nearly split in April over asylum policy. The government plans to toughen its stance by cutting off food and shelter after a few weeks for those whose claims for refugee status are turned down.
Roughly 54 percent of Dutch voters are opposed to letting into the country more than the roughly 2,000 refugees previously agreed, a poll showed last week. Under the latest proposals that figure is seen rising to more than 9,000.
Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Robin Pomeroy