Dutch open deportation center amid immigration crackdown

01.Jul.03,  first published by Associated Press: read the original article here.

The Netherlands on Friday opened the first of two deportation centers, where hundreds of illegal immigrants and rejected asylum seekers, including women and children, will be detained pending expulsion.

The deportation centers are contested fiercely by human rights groups and refugee organizations who say they will be little different from prisons.

A first site for nearly 200 internees was opened at Rotterdam Airport and a second, with a capacity of 100, will be opened at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport later this year, according to a statement from the Immigration Service.

The two facilities, which will be expanded to hold up to 600 detainees and cost a projected $43 million per year, are part of a plan called The Way to a Safer Society, created under Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende.

Trees Wijn, a spokeswoman for the Dutch Refugee Council, said detention should be limited to criminals and used only as a last resort.

"The right of freedom is an essential right that shouldn't be taken away lightly," Wijn said. "Families with children shouldn't be locked up, and a civilized country shouldn't be imprisoning children at all."

Although Wijn was critical of the centers in general, she said the Refugee Council wouldn't object if they were used for illegal immigrants involved in criminal activities.

Detainees will be unable to leave the facilities but will have access to outdoor recreation areas for part of the day.

They also will have access to telephones and legal assistance and will be allowed to see visitors.

Two detainees will share each room.

A spokesman for the Immigration Service said the first detainee was expected "very soon," but he gave no details about the conditions of that person's housing.

"The difference with a prison is that these people are not criminals. They were just staying in the Netherlands illegally," said Immigration Service spokesman Martin Bruinsma. "They will be able to walk around the complex, and there are more facilities than in a prison."

A crackdown on immigration in the Netherlands began after 2002 elections in which the anti-immigration party of the late politician Pim Fortuyn won more than 10 percent of the national vote. Although Fortuyn's party shared power for just 87 days, the current government, led again by Balkenende's Christian Democrats, has pressed ahead with many of its policies.

Last year, the number of asylum seekers fell by more than half to around 20,000, from 44,000 in 2000, largely because of tougher immigration laws.

In 2002, 29,000 illegal immigrants and 21,000 asylum seekers were deported from the Netherlands.

Another 15,000 have been expelled so far this year.