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Deportation decision divides Dutch

By Senior International Correspondent Walter Rodgers

Dutch demonstrators call for acceptance of asylum-seekers.
Dutch demonstrators call for acceptance of asylum-seekers.

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ROTTERDAM, Netherlands (CNN) -- A decision by the Dutch government to deport 26,000 failed asylum-seekers is continuing to make waves across the country.

To many migrants, the future looks bleak.

Hassan Ayada, a Palestinian from Lebanon, is being expelled with his wife and six children because, officials say, they do not qualify as genuine political asylum-seekers.

"We have nothing. We can't go to the West Bank or Gaza," Ayada told CNN.

Some of Holland's failed asylum-seekers are more desperate. Mehdi Kavousi sewed up his mouth in a hunger strike rather than return to Iran where his wife claims he faces a bullet in the head.

"He's desperate, really desperate. The desperation of going back to Iran made him do this," said Marjon Kavousi.

The Dutch government, by contrast, believes many immigrants are in no danger by returning to their countries of origin -- Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan for instance -- and they overwhelmingly won the vote in parliament.

"These people came perhaps to get a better life. That is not a reason for the Netherlands to grant them political asylum," said Justice Minister Rita Vordonk.

Across Europe, there are increasingly strict rules for those seeking political asylum but Holland is the first to order mass expulsions.

A once-welcoming Dutch public is now less tolerant. "If somebody comes here and you can help him I think it's good. But when it's safe to go back he should go back," one Rotterdam resident told CNN.

"The problem is for a lot of Dutch people we have the feeling that some of them get more privileges than we do," said another.

There is also the feeling that many asylum-seekers whose applications were rejected, themselves rejected Dutch cultural values. "I don't think they have enough respect for Dutch law," said a Rotterdam local.

Rita Verdonk
Verdonk: Wants people to return to their countries of origin

The shift in attitudes is complex. The asylum-seekers have become -- in a sense -- scapegoats, blamed for everything from a loss of jobs and economic stagnation to increased crime.

Many say the Dutch also feel their identity is threatened by the fact Europe is enlarging and the Netherlands is becoming less relevant. There is also the post-September 11 factor.

"The way we are dealing with Muslims is completely different now than the way we used to deal with them before the September 11 attacks on the United States," said law professor Anton Van Kalmthout.

"They are all considered to be a danger to our society."

Still, the sheer task of expelling 26,000 failed asylum-seekers conjures up logistical nightmares as many of the Arab and Africa countries these people fled simply will not take them back.

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