New tensions in Netherlands over refugees

Update: October, 12/2015 - 11:49

THE HAGUE — New tensions flared in the Netherlands on Sunday over the sensitive issue of taking in migrants, only hours after Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte sharply condemned a "cowardly" attack on a refugee shelter.

Police were forced to intervene in the central city of Utrecht on Sunday when hundreds joined a rally organised by the far-right German PEGIDA movement, short for "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident".

Some 10 people were arrested after a smoke bomb was thrown and scuffles flared between PEGIDA supporters and those demonstrating against the group, Dutch media reported.

Tensions are rising in The Netherlands over the thousands of refugees due to be given shelter in the country under a European Union scheme.

Dutch police are also investigating a Friday night attack by men dressed in black and wearing balaclavas on a sports hall in the central city of Woerden where some 150 refugees, including 51 children, are temporarily housed.

No one was hurt in the incident, but police were on Sunday still questioning 11 men aged between 19 and 30 who allegedly tried to storm the building, attacking it with fireworks and pelting it with eggs.

"This cowardly action is totally unacceptable," Prime Minister Rutte said on his Facebook page, after visiting the group on Saturday who he said had been very "shocked" by the incident.

Over the next two years, the Netherlands will take in more than 7,000 people as EU nations share out the migrants flooding into the continent, mainly from Syria and Iraq, in Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II.

Last week, an angry crowd in the tiny village of Oranje tried to block the car of Deputy Justice Minister Klaas Dijkhoff after he revealed the small hamlet was having to house some 1,200 refugees, twice the number initially planned.

A woman was injured and hospitalised after she threw herself against Dijkhoff's car.

Rutte, who on Friday had already called for calm over the refugee situation, vowed after his visit to Woerden that those behind the attack would be severely dealt with.

Some local mayors have reacted angrily at the government plans for temporarily housing refugees in their villages, saying they were being "overruled" by the ministers based in The Hague.

A poll published on Sunday in the De Telegraaf newspaper showed that the Freedom Party (PVV) of firebrand far-right Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders appears to be shooting up the polls amid the refugee crisis.

His party won 15 seats in the last elections in 2012. But according to the daily De Telegraaf, if elections were held today his party could snatch as many as 35 seats in the 150-seat lower house.

Lawyers urge Britain to accept more Syrian refugees

Britain must accept more Syrian refugees faster in response to a humanitarian crisis of people fleeing conflict, a group of over 300 lawyers demanded in a statement released today.

"We consider that the UK Government's offer to resettle 20,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees from camps in the Middle East, spread over five years, is too low, too slow and too narrow," the statement read.

Stephen Sedley, a signatory of the petition and a former appeal court judge, said that "stable and prosperous" Britain could do far more.

"As the statement explains, it is within the UK's power to curtail the lethal boat traffic by enabling refugees from countries such as Syria and Iraq to travel here lawfully in order to apply for asylum," Sedley said.

"Since refuge from persecution and war is a universal human right, this means recognising that our Government's present offer to take no more than 20,000 Syrian refugees over five years is wholly inadequate."

Over four million Syrians have been forced to flee their war-torn country since a brutal conflict broke out in 2011, with millions more internally displaced. — AFP