Opinion are sharply divided in our town. The local council has, in principle, decided to agree with the establishment of a center for asylum seekers, where, as a start, some 900 people could be accommodated. However, that number might increase to about 1500. Many people in our town are worried. Can we absorb such an influx of foreigners among our 20.000 inhabitants? Do we have the necessary public services? Will this not bring trouble, or even criminality?
Of course, these problems are real and the local authorities will have quite to job to ensure that all goes well. Nonetheless, I am happy that my town Zeewolde has decided to play a role in the care for the refugees that have come to the Netherlands.
Most of the people in our country, I think, feel that we ought to do something for people who come here to seek asylum. But many feel Dutch society is already doing enough. Some even say that we are already doing too much. I disagree. The Netherlands is not leading the way with respect to welcoming refugees and certainly not when it comes to providing even minimal care for the asylum seekers who have exhausted the procedures to remain in our country and must leave—but often are unable to return to their country of origin. By comparison, Germany accepts a much larger quota of refugees. And also look at Sweden. This country with its 9,5 million inhabitants welcomed in 2014 some 54.000 Syrian refugees. This year its expects to see 70.000 asylum seekers. In 2014 the Netherlands, with almost twice as many citizens, was faced with 24.000 people who wanted asylum. (And Sweden is at present not doing better economically than the Netherlands!) I am really somewhat ashamed of my country. We often pride ourselves that we show the world how things should be done, but in this case we fail miserably.
Many people in Zeewolde (the name of our town) understand that our country must arrange for more centers for asylum seekers, but they feel they have good reasons to oppose the establishment of such a center in their own town. This is a common phenomenon. In the past few years the further development of a nearby small airport has caused similar controversy. Of course, we all want to profit from the price fighter airlines and their cheap holiday arrangements. So, yes, we agree, there must be adequate facilities. But we do no want the planes to fly over the area where we happen to live.
I understand that the refugee problem has many different aspects, and hat you cannot simply open the border for anyone who wants to live in a country with windmills and tulip fields. And there is, of course, a difference between those who had to flee their country because of political or religious repression, and those who migrate for economic reasons. But those who have travelled around in the world and have visited some of the countries from where most of these asylum seekers come, must be sympathetic to the people who want to escape from their situation of terrible poverty. I have travelled enough in those countries to feel empathy for those who try to find a better place to live.
And, finally, caring for people in the margins (and that label certainly applies to the vast majority of asylum seekers) is a crucial aspect of what it means to be a christian. A considerable percentage of the people who live in our town refer to themselves as ‘christians’. I hope they will show their christian spirit when in the near future the first asylum seekers arrive.