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Prof. Heinrich Winter: ‘Leers is trying to distract attention from his lack of room to manoeuvre’

09 February 2011

With great panache, Gerd Leers, Minister for Immigration and Asylum, announced new, stricter asylum legislation. But closer examination reveals nothing innovative about these new regulations. Prof. Heinrich Winter of the University of Groningen is on his guard. ‘Leers is in a legal straitjacket. His decisive presentation is intended to distract attention from his lack of room to manoeuvre.’ Statements by the minister in the media should be monitored critically, is Winter’s opinion. ‘We should constantly ask ourselves just how serious Leers is exactly. And what is his agenda?’

Gerd Leers wants to make it less easy for asylum seekers to constantly submit appeals in their asylum procedure. Or so he says. With great panache he recently announced that the number of situations in which asylum seekers can await the results of an appeal in the Netherlands will be reduced. University of Groningen legal expert Winter was initially surprised by the announcement, but when he studied the minister’s plans in detail, he couldn’t find anything new. Winter: ‘An appeal, or an appeal against a second decision, can only be awaited in the Netherlands if there are new facts or changed circumstances, says the minister. But that’s what the situation is now. In other words, Leers is announcing existing law with panache.’

Deporting Sahar

The minister has also generated a great deal of media attention with other plans. For example, he announced he would appeal the decision of the court in Den Bosch in the ‘Sahar case’. The court forbade the deportation of this Afghani girl and her family because after ten years in the Netherlands they had more links with this country than with Afghanistan. Winter: ‘It’s perfectly understandable that the minister wants to challenge this decision. He does not want a family like this one to be “rewarded” for stretching out the asylum procedure. On the other hand, for years there’s obviously nothing been done about returning this family, or the family simply couldn’t return given the situation in Afghanistan. That’s something the minister has to recognize too.’

Head in the sand

Leers would be better advised to put his energy into the swift and careful processing of new asylum procedures than in challenging legal decisions, thinks Winter. Until recently, the minister refused to admit about two thousand asylum seekers to the procedure who had reached the Netherlands via Greece. His reasoning was that all refugees have to request asylum in the country where they enter the EU.

Winter: ‘But it’s been known for ages that Greece does not have a thorough asylum procedure and that the accommodation facilities are way below par. In addition, the minister knows that the European Court of Human Rights has forbidden people to be sent back to Greece in many “interim measures”. Nevertheless, he has constantly put off making a clear, general decision in this case. The result is a group of asylum seekers who have lost all hope, and who will take few initiatives themselves – and when the time comes will certainly not cooperate with their procedure.’

Hoodwinking voters

When the Rutte Cabinet started, Geert Wilders stated that it would reduce the inflow of asylum seekers by fifty percent. These words have never been repeated by Rutte or Leers, but they too suggested a significant reduction in inflow. Castles in the air, is Professor Winter’s judgement. ‘Suggesting to voters that this cabinet will drastically reduce the number of asylum seekers is simply not credible. I’d almost go as far as to say that it’s hoodwinking voters.’ The minister’s resolute statements are thus mainly intended to distract attention from legal decisions that demonstrate just how limited Leers’s room for manoeuvre is, is Winter’s assessment.

Chances in Brussels

If there were any possibilities to stem the tide of asylum seekers, then the place to look is Brussels, thinks Winter. However, the professor doubts whether it would be easy to change European asylum policy. ‘A lot of changes have been made to European asylum legislation in the last ten years. We now have a good safety net, that dovetails with fundamental human rights. I think that the chances of a qualified majority of European member states wanting to change those regulations yet again are not very high.’

More information

In Focus: Heinrich Winter

Curriculum Vitae

Prof. Heinrich Winter (1962) is professor by special appointment in Supervision and teaches administrative procedure law, immigration law, refugee and asylum law and supervision and criminal justice at the Faculty of Law of the University of Groningen. He is also head of the Pro Facto research and advice bureau. He studied Public Administration & Public Law and Sociology in Groningen and gained his PhD in 1996 researching supervision and enforcement and how legislation functions.

Last modified:28 November 2017 4.59 p.m.
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