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2 Countries, 2 Immigration Experiences

Updated: Mar 10

Written by Joshua Rahill 09/03/2020.

Immigration after the 2008 crash has been a controversial and divisive topic across the globe. Europe has been very divided in dealing with the refugee crisis and has seen the rise of far-right populism campaigning against open borders. I am an English student working and living in the Netherlands, one of Europe’s most liberal countries. Here I have been struck by the different attitude towards immigration.

The Netherlands is made up of people from a range of different ethnicities. Immigrants have been largely welcomed by the locals. The government of the Netherlands have also pursued a progressive immigration system, as one of the first countries to opens its borders to the freedom of movement. The Schengen agreement in 1985 welcomed immigration from Northern Europe.

Immigrants had also been invited to the Netherlands after World War Two from ex-colonies to benefit the Dutch economy by solving massive labour shortages to rebuild the crumbling infrastructure. This integration was a major success and helped initiate the economic growth in the boom period of the 1960s. Dutch people appreciated and accepted the place of immigrants in their society

This policy was also applied in the UK, accepting immigration from their ex-colonies, mainly from the Caribbean and South East Asian. In the UK however, public attitudes often under-appreciated the important role these immigrants play in society. The tabloid press was quick to blame mounting social and economic problems on immigrants.

The UK’s battle with immigrants

The National Front in the 80s and 90s rose to prominence with an extremely anti-immigration rhetoric. Their strong electoral performance in the 1977 London Council Election led to the Battle of Lewisham which divided many communities across the capital. This helped promote an anti-immigration sentiment across the UK. Thatcher partly ran on this sentiment when she was first elected. Net migration was reduced from +4000 in 1979 to -79,000 by 1981.

Again, in the 1990s the National Front represented the views of many Brits. In my opinion, there is certainly a correlation between the 1995 Lansdowe Road football riots and net migration decreasing again from 77,000 in 1994 to 48,000 by 1997. This event brings shame to Britain. But as politicians and the tabloid media began to utilise people’s insecurities about immigration to win votes and sell newspapers, the anti-immigration rhetoric entered into the mainstream.

Differing Dutch Approach

It is estimated that by 2001 in the Netherlands there were 458,000 people of Indo-Dutch descent and today 23% of the total Dutch population have immigrant backgrounds. Immigration has been a historic success for the Dutch and helped to create the diversity that’s seen across society in the Netherlands today. It is no wonder that the Dutch have always been at the forefront of promoting the benefits immigration can bring. Immigration has had a greater effect on the demographics and cultures that make up the Netherlands. However this has not led to the same discrimination faced by immigrants than has been the case in the UK.persistent resistance to immigration than has been sustained in the UK.

Despite this and the pressure from the current trend other developed nations have to reduce immigration, in the Netherlands year on year immigration increases and takes an alternative approach.

· Recent Dutch figures from 2016 show that in just 6 years from 2010 to 2016 net immigration almost doubled from 63,000 to 103,000.

· In Comparison of the UK’s figures show the opposite, from 2015 to 2019 net immigration fell dramatically by almost 100,000 from 329,000 to 240,000.

Obviously, the UK still had more overall immigration, however when you consider the UK population is over 2 ½ times bigger than the Dutch, things look very different. Dutch net immigration in 2016 was equivalent to around 0.6% of their population and in the UK in 2019 only 0.35%. This only scrapes the surface of the wildly different acceptance of immigration in these 2 countries.

This shows 2 countries are going in completely opposite directions on this and I have seen this firsthand from the vibrant diverse communities across Holland.

The Contemporary Situation

Over the last decade the UK has seen attitudes towards immigration become even more hostile. The horrific impact of the Windrush Scandal and the environment which led to Brexit represents a further shift against immigration. The medias scapegoating and the post Brexit divisions has intensified these negative attitudes.

Even after the public backlash to these scandals, the UK government’s current anti-immigration policy remains so extreme and divisive.

The rise of the UK’s own “Alt-right,” combined with the anti-immigrant reaction after the 2008 global crash, makes it fairly easy for the government get support for, and enact, these disturbing policies. Even after Theresa May’s apology over Windrush, Boris Johnson in Trumpian style, is continuing to deport Caribbean nationals, many of whom have lived in the UK since being children.

On the other hand, the Netherlands is taking necessary steps to deal with immigration, however reducing immigration is not one of them. Instead in 2006 the right wing VVD came up with an integration policy to encourage immigrants outside the EU to learn the language and about Dutch culture when coming to the country. This more sensible approach has led to a greater immigrant acceptance across the country.

In all it means that Dutch integration is much easier. I’ve seen this personally as it’s quick for immigrants to fit in with the Dutch, settle in a variety of areas and offers a much more compassionate approach, especially when compared to the vilification of immigrants in the UK.

What can we learn from the immigration attitudes in the Netherlands? Please comment below


Established to help asylum seekers and refugees, we operate within the UK Parliament. Our previous activities have included organising seminars, film screenings and meetings, as well as assisting with asylum cases, collaborating with organisations and publishing informative booklets. Our greatest achievements include founding the highly-successful Citizens of the World Choir and organising Parliament's World Refugee Day in 2017 & 2018.



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