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Soualiga Newsday Features (1501)

‘Bring children back from Syria,’ Dutch children’s ombudsman urges

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Dutch children’s ombudsman has renewed her call to the government to bring back children who are stuck in camps in Syria because their parents supported IS. 

Margrite Kalverboer has urged justice minister Ferd Grapperhaus to bring back dozens of Dutch children living in refugee camps, saying the Netherlands has a duty of care towards them. 

‘The development of these children has been seriously threatened by their parents’ choices,’ she said. ‘If parents cannot protect their children, the government should step in.’ 

The problem is particularly acute now winter is moving in and the situation in Syria has worsened, Kalverboer says in a letter to the government, adding that ‘the Netherlands should end its reticence.’ The ombudsman referred to the recent court case in Belgium in which the Belgian authorities were ordered to bring several children back. 

‘I would ask you to provide clarity about which countries are bringing their citizens back or intend to do so, and how they plan to do this,’ the letter stated. Currently, families who wish to come back to the Netherlands have to report to a Dutch diplomatic mission in either Iraq or Turkey. 

However, women and children are not allowed to leave the camps, so it is impossible for them to do so. Officials say around 145 children with Dutch nationality or who can make a claim on Dutch nationality are living in the conflict zone. 

Grapperhaus has denied the Netherlands has a duty of care towards the children and has told MPs that it is legally complex to separate parents from their children.(DutchNews)

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More people switch health insurer in year end transfer window

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Some 1.1 million people have switched health insurance company during the most recent transfer window, according to preliminary figures from health insurer association ZN. 

That would mean 6.6% of all policy holders moved to a new provider this year, up from 6.2% in 2017, ZN said. That percentage can still change because not all applications have yet been processed. 

People had until January 1 to cancel their old insurance policy but until February 1 to choose a new health insurance company. ‘People really do have something to choose from and we can see that they are now doing this,’ ZN chairman André Rouvoet said.(DutchNews)

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More children using bank cards, but parents worry about security

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – One in three children regularly uses a bank card in shops, but parents worry that they are too careless about security, according to research by advice bureau Nibud. 

Three-quarters of children aged between 10 and 18 have a bank account and half of these have a debit card (pinpas). However, the proportion who know their pin code by heart fell from 78% to 62% in the last five years. 

The figures are contained in Nibud’s latest survey of children’s finances. Parents who took part were less sure than in previous years that their children take security precautions when paying. 

Five years ago, 90% of parents said they were sure their children checked nobody was looking before typing in their pin, compared to 72% in 2018. Around half of parents check their children’s bank accounts, though the number falls to around a third once children reach their teenage years. 

Nibud said parents had a vital role to play in ensuring children learn to use money and bank cards responsibly, to prevent financial difficulties later on. ‘It helps them to learn to keep on top of their income and expenditure, which is unmissable for keeping your finances balanced. 

It’s primarily a job for parents, but banks can help them by making children’s details more accessible,’ said Nibud director Arjan Vliegenthart.(DutchNews)

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Dutch schools ‘wrestle’ with surge in expat children: Trouw

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Primary schools in Eindhoven, Amsterdam and The Hague are expecting a surge in the number of ‘expat’ children in the coming years, Trouw reported on Monday. 

The paper says schools are having to get ready to cope with the expected influx of new arrivals who are moving to the Netherlands to work because of the shortage of skilled IT staff and technicians. Eindhoven, for example, is expecting that the number of children from ‘skilled migrant’ families will reach 4,000 between now and 2030. 

And Geert Simons, head of the Reigerlaan primary school in Eindhoven, told the paper that one third of four-year-old’s starting school are foreign in origin. The paper said schools are not given extra cash by the government to cope with the rise in pupils who do not speak Dutch at home because their parents are well educated. 

This means local authorities have to fund special language classes and programmes to integrate foreign children into the Dutch system, the paper said. In Eindhoven, for example, the Reigerlaan is experimenting with a new ‘international’ class for four-year-old’s. 

We do have a challenge on hand with internationalised education,’ Kris de Prins, director of the Holland Expat Centre in Eindhoven, told DutchNews. The region, he said, has opted to ‘internationalise regular schools to cope with the growing numbers of not only international children, but also Dutch children, of which the parents are convinced that internationalised education is important for their children’s development.’ But there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, De Prins said. 

School fees 

Research published by the International Community Advisory Platform in 2017 showed that 63% of expats had no help from their employer in paying school fees, and some 53% already had children at Dutch schools. 

Fewer than one in four opted for expensive, private international schools, where the fees can reach upwards of €25,000 for a year. The survey showed that most internationals in the Netherlands came here by choice and live here for more than five years. They also want their children to integrate into the Dutch community.(DutchNews)

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Socialists again call for action to ‘stop expats displacing Amsterdammers’

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The leader of the Socialist party in Amsterdam has called on the city council to take steps to stop ‘Amsterdammers being displaced by expats and international students’. 

SP councillor Erik Flentge said in an article on the party’s local website that the city is ‘becoming completely out of balance because of the large stream of expats with their tax advantages, continually forcing up house prices’. 

‘Amsterdammers who are looking for jobs should get the opportunity, not be competed away by expats,’ Flentge said. ‘People who have lived in the city for longer, work or study should have the chance to get a job and priority in getting a house.’ 

Flentge made the comments after the national statistics agency CBS published new figures showing that the population of Amsterdam had grown by 10,000 over the past year, largely due to the arrival of more international workers from America, Britain, India and the EU. 

This, Flentge said, has been driving up house prices and making the city’s housing popular with investors, forcing Amsterdam families to move out of the city to the cheaper surrounding areas. 

Priority 

The SP wants Amsterdammers to be given priority in new housing projects and to stop people buying up homes to rent out. ‘The SP also wants the council to make agreements with foreign firms about taking on local personal and locating expats in the region,’ Flengte said. 

Research by the International Community Advisory Platform has shown that 80% of new expats get no help with housing costs and a large majority said they are paying more than they can afford for a place to live. 

‘New arrivals have no network, they don’t understand the Dutch system and they often have no choice but to pay rents that Dutch people would consider absurd because they need a place to live,’ said ICAP board member Deborah Valentine. 

Some 25% of people considered to be expats earn less than €3,000 a month. 

Local elections 

The SP is part of the current left-wing coalition running the Dutch capital and controls the housing portfolio. The party campaigned in last year’s local elections on an ‘Amsterdam for the Amsterdammers’ ticket. 

Meanwhile, Sebastiaan Capel, who heads up the Zuid borough council and represents the Liberal democratic party D66, has described Flentge’s comments as ‘xenophobic and populist’.(DutchNews)

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EU nationals by far the largest group of new immigrants to NL

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The population of the Netherlands grew by an estimated 100,000 last year, with immigration from other European countries accounting for much of the increase, according to new figures from national statistics office CBS. 

In total, 241,000 people moved to the Netherlands from abroad and 153,000 left. European nationals accounted for over 45,000 of the net increases, with the size of the Polish community expanding by 9,000 to the end of November. 

Indians accounted for the second largest group of new arrivals, particularly in Amsterdam, Amstelveen and Eindhoven, but the increase – 6,000 – is below that recorded in 2017. 

Overall, the number of immigrants from Asia fell by nearly 8,000, compared with 2017, due largely to the drop-in refugees from Syria. Some 12,000 people moved to the Netherlands from America, a rise of 3,000 on 2017. 

Cities 

The population of the Netherlands has now reached 17.3 million people, with more people moving to four big cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague and Utrecht. 

Amsterdam grew the most, by over 10,000, while The Hague, Rotterdam and Utrecht grew by between 6,200 and 5,000. The population shrank in 74 of the 380 Dutch local authority areas, mainly in Groningen, Friesland and Limburg. 

This was largely due to the aging population, the CBS said. The birth rate last year outstripped the death rate by 16,000, continuing the downward trend. In 2010, women had on average 1.8 children, but this had fallen to 1.6 million by last year.(DutchNews)

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Scheveningen beach bonfire broke permit rules, mayor sets up inquiry

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Officials in The Hague have begun an investigation into the Scheveningen New Year bonfire which sent clouds of cinders across the seaside resort, causing small fires and damaging dozens of cars and bikes. 

The city’s mayor Pauline Krikke has now confirmed that the bonfire – which towered 48 metres above the beach – was 13 metres higher than permitted, but as yet it is unclear why officials did not intervene and stop the blaze. 

Sources close to the mayor have told broadcaster NOS that officials decided not to get involved to head off ‘social unrest’. Scheveningen and the nearby district Duindorp have had a competition to build the highest bonfire since the early 1990s. 

This year, the strong sea wind blasted the flames from the Scheveningen fire across the beach to the boulevard, sending showers of sparks across the town. Footage of the fire, including tornadoes made of flames, have been broadcast around the world.

It has since emerged that the maximum height of the bonfire, which is made of old wooden pallets, is set down in a covenant between the city council and the organisers.

Former mayor Jozias van Aartsen said in 2016 that the competition between the two towns was threatening to get out of hand. He also established that the organisers did not keep to the rules about making sure no more than 25,000 pallets were used, and that building work stopped at 4pm. 

Inquiry 

Krikke has said that the organisers, the police and herself have doubts about whether the competition should be allowed to continue. She has set up a ‘far reaching inquiry’ which will take several months to complete. 

The beach bonfires were first introduced in the early 1990s as a safety measure to prevent locals setting dozens of smaller fires to see in the New Year, and the competition has been included on the Dutch cultural heritage list since 2014. 

That year the winning Duindorp pile was just 15 metres high. Children’s television showed drone footage highlighting the scale of the towers on Monday afternoon.(DutchNews)

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The Netherlands scores a B in making most of the euro

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The Netherlands is in the ‘middle of the class’ when it comes to making the most of the euro, which was introduced 20 years ago, according to a report by international news agency Bloomberg. 

Of the 16 countries tested, six ended up with As, five got Bs – including the Netherlands – and another handful scored Cs. The 10 economic tests looked at the extent to which eurozone member states were able to benefit from greater stability and economic integration, as well as their capacity to remain competitive and stabilise their economies, Bloomberg said. 

The tests do not show if a country would have been better off outside the eurozone. Germany topped the list with late joiners Slovakia and Slovenia coming in second and third. 

The Netherlands scored a B, alongside Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Luxembourg. ‘The project to ditch the guilder is not perceived as an all-out success by some,’ Amsterdam bureau chief Joost Akkermans said. 

‘Political opponents point to the bailout of Greece as a prime example that costs for the Netherlands outweigh the benefits of the euro, even as business groups say being part of the shared currency has brought economic growth and prosperity.’(DutchNews)

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Government faces a busy year with two elections and headache issues

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – The ‘yellow vest’ protest movement may have failed to take off in the Netherlands so far, but the Dutch government does face a number of challenges in 2019 – not least of all two important elections. 

Support for the four coalition parties is down sharply on March 2017, when the current government was elected, and the cabinet is unlikely to have a majority in the upper house of parliament after this year’s provincial and senate votes. 

This, commentators say, make it all the more important that the government start delivering tangible results in 2019. ‘Up to now, the lack of results can be explained by the need to gather widespread support … but that excuse becomes less actual, the longer the cabinet has been in office,’ wrote Trouw in an editorial on Monday. 

‘There is no time to lose for this cabinet.’ NOS political correspondent Ron Frensen says that 2019 is the year in which the cabinet must make real progress and tackle issues such as climate change and bogus self-employment which have provided ministers with headaches this year. 

‘This is an election year in which citizens must finally benefit from economic growth,’ wrote Elsevier in its last issue of the year. ‘But while the energy transition still has to begin, the coalition is already worried about rising energy bills. Will ministers opt for Paris or the middle class?’ 

The main issues on the political agenda in 2019 

Coping with the shortage of skilled workers: The Dutch unemployment rate has fallen below 4% and some sectors of the economy are suffering from a serious shortage of staff. 

The construction sector in particular has been hard hit – threatening plans to build tens of thousands of new homes. Several primary schools have introduced a four-day week because of the shortage of teachers. 

Reforming the pension system: Talks between unions and employers on reforming the Dutch pension system broke down in November and social affairs minister Wouter Koolmees is now coming up with his own plan. 

Experts believe that the Dutch pension system – a combination of a state pension (AOW) and corporate pension schemes – needs to be reformed because the aging population is putting more pressure on the current pension system and pension funds are having to pay out to more people for longer. 

Stamping out fake self-employment: The cabinet was not successful in efforts to stamp out bogus self-employment in 2018 – a strategy often used by companies to employ people on freelance contracts without holiday and pension rights. 

New proposals are on the cards in 2019. Plans to introduce a system whereby freelancer contracts which include a low hourly rate are automatically turned into a regular contract – if they run for more than three months – have fallen foul of EU legislation. 

Boosting the financial security of freelancers: As yet there is no agreement on whether freelancers should be required by law to contribute to a pension scheme or disability insurance scheme. The government has commissioned research on the pros and cons in 2019. 

Tackling climate change and reducing the use of natural gas: The five working parties coming up with proposals to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the Netherlands finally published their plans on December 21. 

The plans were immediately slammed by critics for giving industry and easy ride and making tax payers pick up the bill. Even economic affairs minister Eric Wiebes, who is in charge of the process, has said the agreement is ‘not definitive’ but an ‘important first step’. 

In particular, the decision to phase out the use of natural gas in private homes has come under fire at a time when the Netherlands’ neighbouring countries are upping their use of gas. 

Opening Lelystad airport: Plans to open Lelystad airport to commercial air traffic took further knocks in 2018 and this is now unlikely to happen in 2020 as planned. It is becoming ‘increasingly complicated’, transport minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen said last month. 

European and provincial elections: Elections for the 12 provincial governments take place on March 20 – provincial councillors will then elect the senate on May 27 and it is very unclear whether or not the government will be able to cling on to its majority. 

In particular, right wing newcomer Forum voor Democracie, is likely to win seats from the established parties. The European elections take place on May 23. The Netherlands currently has 26 seats, but this will go up to 29 in May. The total number of seats in the European parliament will be cut from 751 to 701 after the election, because of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.(DutchNews)

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All change in 2019: taxes, traffic fines, benefits and paternity leave

SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Food goes up in price, income tax goes down and the minimum wage rises – here is a roundup of the main changes in rules and regulations which may affect you in 2019. The government, by the way, says it expects nearly everyone to have more to spend next year.

Work-related issues

The income tax rate in the second tax band (€20,142 to €68,507) will go down from 40.85% to 38.1% but is virtually unchanged in the lowest and highest tax band.

Various tax deductions for people in work (heffingskorting and arbeidskorting) will also go up, so people with jobs will keep a little more of their income. The maximum tax-free allowance for volunteers will go up from €150 per month to €170 per month.

Company car drivers with an electric car will have to pay tax on 4% of the catalogue value of their cars up to €50,000 and 22% over the rest – if they use their car privately to drive more than 500 kilometres a year.

The standard rate of 22% for other company cars will not change. The 30% ruling duration for new claims will go down from eight to five years. The minimum wage for an adult aged at least 22 will rise €21.60 a month to €1,615.80. For a 19-year-old, the rise is €11.90 to €888.70.

Other taxes

The lower rate of value-added tax (btw) will go up from 6% to 9%, which means food, books, visits to the hairdresser, concerts and sports events and buying flowers and plants will all cost more.

Gas and electricity will be more expensive due to energy tax increases.

 The maximum mortgage tax relief rate will go down from 49.5% to 49% – this only affects people in the highest tax band of over €68,507.

Children

The partners of new mothers will get five days paid leave, compared with just two in 2018. The period of leave for parents who are adopting or fostering a child will go up from four to six weeks, fully paid.

Child benefits will go up and the maximum income limit for help with paying for regulated childcare will rise from €58,500 to some €75,000. At the same time day-care centres will have to employ more staff per group of children, which will increase the price slightly.

Healthcare and care services

The basic health insurance policy now covers advice for people at risk of developing health issues because they are overweight. Parcetamol and over the counter vitamins and minerals will no longer be available on prescription.

A new limit of €250 has been introduced for people who have to contribute towards the cost of medication. The incomes test for home nursing services (WMO) will be abolished and people living in residential care will face lower asset-related fees.

The maximum healthcare benefit will rise to €99 a month for a single person with an income of less than €20,500 a year.

Crime and punishment

It will be easier for mayors to close buildings they suspect are being used to produce or sell drugs.

The police will be able to keep car number plate registrations made by speed and surveillance cameras for four weeks – whether or not the driver is suspected of any crime.

Traffic fines will go up – for example driving through a red light will cost €240 rather than €230. People will also be able to pay fines of €75 upwards by installments. The current limit is €225.

Other changes

The state pension age rises to 66 years and four months. The price of a packet of 20 cigarettes will rise 6 cents and 40 grams of rolling tobacco 11 cents.

The relatives of people killed or left very seriously disabled through a crime or negligence will have the right to compensation (affectieschade) (DutchNews)

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