Refugees Shaken By Far-Right Surge In Netherlands

Geert Wilders, an anti-Muslim populist leading the polls ahead of March elections, promises to "make the Netherlands ours again"

Geert Wilders campaigning — REUTERS
Feb 22, 2017 at 3:04 AM ET

Ultra-nationalist Dutch politician Geert Wilders is spurring anxiety among refugees who say that his growing popularity ahead of the March 15 elections is dragging the famously liberal country rightward.

Yahia, an administrator of the Facebook group “Syrians in the Netherlands,” said that many worry for the future of aid and family reunification programs currently available to refugees in the country.

“Most Dutch are good people, but I think the greatest fear is that [Wilders’ win could] change Dutch people’s attitude toward the Syrians,” said Yahia, who is himself a Syrian refugee from Damascus, living in the Netherlands since 2014. Like others interviewed for this article, he requested his last name not be used because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Wilders, leader of the Party for Freedom, is currently leading the opinion polls. He has drawn massive crowds to rallies around the country, where his supporters liken him to President Donald Trump, both in his populist appeal and eccentric shock of grey-blonde hair.

His platform calls for a “limit on the growth of Muslim numbers” in the Netherlands, a ban on the Quran, and a shuttering of mosques and asylum centers. He has praised President Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban order.

At the launch of his campaign in a working class suburb outside of Rotterdam on Saturday, Wilders posed for selfies with voters wearing “Make America Great Again” hats. He proclaimed that he will “make the Netherlands ours again.” Speaking in English with reporters, he called the country’s Moroccan population dangerous “scum,” adding that he was not referring to all Moroccans, but to “a lot of Moroccan scum.”

“He started with Moroccans, but will be coming next for the Syrians and Iraqis,” said one Iraqi member of the Facebook group who requested anonymity.

Many refugees are concerned that the Dutch media is giving Wilders, who was found guilty last year of inciting racial discrimination, a platform to deliver his message, which is working to embolden other similar movements across the continent.

The Dutch elections are a test for populism in the age of Donald Trump, Brexit and the rising ethnic-nationalist zeitgeist. Many expect that a win for Wilders will give momentum to similar far-right leaders, like Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France and Frauke Petry, the head of the Alternative For Germany party; who are also preparing for parliamentary elections in the coming months.

Refugees in the Facebook group prayed for God’s help, and warned that “Wilders is following in the path of Trump in order to pave his own version of racism.” One user said that “March 15 seemed to be a day for disasters,” referring to the Syrian civil war that started on March 15, 2011.

But Amer, another member of the Facebook group, is optimistic. He hopes his fellow Syrians refugees will also “put their trust in the Dutch law and support anti-racist, pro-refugee parties. All the political parties refused to cooperate with Wilders, proving that most Dutch people are against him,” he said, referring to the fact that most Dutch parties have ruled out joining a coalition with Wilders.