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  • A migrant stands on the deck of the migrant search and rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, operated by German NGO Sea-Watch, off the coast of Malta, Jan. 8, 2019.

    A migrant stands on the deck of the migrant search and rescue ship Sea-Watch 3, operated by German NGO Sea-Watch, off the coast of Malta, Jan. 8, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 28 January 2019

The Netherlands has adopted one of the tightest immigration policies in Europe following a public backlash.

The Netherlands refused an Italian request Monday to take in 47 migrants on a humanitarian ship that is being blocked from Italian ports, saying there was a need to distinguish between genuine refugees and economic migrants.

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The Sea Watch 3, run by a German humanitarian group and flying a Dutch flag, rescued the migrants from a rubber boat off the Libyan coast more than a week ago. Since then it has been sailing through high winds and 7-metre (23 ft) waves.

Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, leader of the anti-migrant 5-Star Movement, said the ship should go either to France, which he has accused of shirking its responsibilities, or to the Netherlands.

The Dutch Justice and Security Ministry, which oversees immigration policy, said it would not take in any migrants from Sea Watch until there was a long-term agreement on how to distinguish refugees from economic migrants.

"Those who are not entitled to international protection need to be sent back immediately on arrival at European borders," it said in a statement.

"Without a clear perspective for such a structural solution, the Netherlands will not participate in ad hoc measures for the disembarkation."

It is the second time in a month Sea Watch has been stranded at sea with rescued migrants and no safe port. The last standoff ended after 19 days and an agreement among eight EU countries, including Italy, to take in the migrants.

The Netherlands, which took in hundreds of thousands of migrants in the 1960s and 1970s to work as laborers, has adopted one of the tightest immigration policies in Europe following a public backlash.

In December, El Pais reported that a total of 2,410 children requested asylum in the Dutch Republic. Of this total, 1,400 did not receive the amnesty reserved for special cases, and from this group, 740 of them received a deportation order but continued to reside in the country as undocumented, according to data provided by the Ministry of Justice. Another 180 remained completely missing from the system. 

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