Video: Dutch immigrants must like it or leave

By Dawna Friesen Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/1/2006 7:36:51 PM ET 2006-05-01T23:36:51

Known for its tranquility and tulips and its reputation for permissiveness, the Netherlands was once considered the most tolerant country in Europe when it came to immigrants.

Not anymore.

Take Irkan Yildarim. He's Muslim, lives in Turkey with his parents, and desperately wants to join his wife in Holland. But first he must take a test to see if he fits in.

It's a two-hour government film about life in the Netherlands: Compulsory viewing as part of a tough new entrance test for would-be immigrants. The idea of the film — depicting things like gay men kissing and topless beaches — is to make immigrants familiar with every aspect of Dutch society.

"If my friends saw me near a topless beach, they'd lose all respect for me," Yildarim says after watching the film. "I'll never get back to my wife."

And there's another hurdle: Immigrants must learn to speak Dutch before entering Holland.

The woman behind the new test is Holland's immigration minister, Rita Verdonk, known as "Iron Rita."

"We are a free country for people who need a secure place to live, but not for everybody who wants to come," she says.

There are already 600,000 immigrants in Holland, Verdonk says, who don't speak Dutch, and live in tight-knit, insulated neighborhoods. The children have trouble in school and young people can't find work.

The message is loud and clear: If you want to live here, you must respect European values like freedom of expression and speech, and integrate. If you don't like it, don't come here.

Attitudes began to harden after a controversial Dutch filmmaker was killed by a militant Muslim in November 2004. And the bombings in London and Madrid made all of Europe jittery.

"People see all Muslims as extremists now," says Abdou Menebhi, "and the government is exploiting that fear."

Born in Morocco, Menebhi is a Dutch citizen who works with immigrants.

"The aim of the new test is to keep Muslims from coming here," he says.

Other countries are watching the new Dutch model closely, and some German states have already introduced similar tests, as the face of Europe changes, and the cultural fault lines deepen.

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