Learn more about Rita Verdonk
|Born||October 18, 1955
 Career before politics
Born in Utrecht, Verdonk went to high school at Utrecht's Niels Stensencollege, which she attended at the atheneum level. She went on to study sociology, specializing in sociology of organisations and criminology at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, which at the time was considered a hotbed of left-wing political activism. Verdonk was member of a sub-faculty board of the university and a member of the activist group Bond voor Wetsovertreders (BWO; English: Union for Lawbreakers) which had close ties with the far-left Pacifist Socialist Party. Its 1977 manifesto included as the party's aims "to curb and/or prevent material damage and immaterial damage inflicted to individuals or groups in our society by the Dutch legal system". BWO campaigned for such things as detainee minimum wages, the abolition of censorship of letters for detainees and the right to unsupervised visits. The group actively visited inmates at a local prison and undertook legal interventions on their behalf. On one occasion, Verdonk participated in a non-violent human blockade during the Pierson riots of 1981, when plans for demolition of houses in favor of a parking facility triggered violent civil unrest. She earned the nickname "Red Rita" because of her activism during this period. In a 2006 article, some of Verdonk's friends and colleagues from her Nijmegen days expressed surprise at Verdonk's radical switch in political orientation after graduating in 1983. Some observed that Verdonk had never held outspoken left-wing ideals (and was a critic of communist regimes), others hypothesized that it was part of a growing-up phase, while a former treasurer of the BWO suspected that Verdonk had been a police informer all those years <ref>Rita's rode jaren, (Article) Harm Ede Botje, Sander Donkers, Vrij Nederland 20 mei 2006</ref>.
After graduating in 1983, Verdonk became a trainee at the department of correction at the Ministry of Justice. In 1984, she became assistant-director at the Scheveningen House of Detention. In 1988, she became member of the board of the Prison 'De Schie' in Rotterdam. In 1992, she switched to the Ministry of Justice's department of Youth and Hospital Orders Institutions, where she reached the position of vice-director. In 1996, she became director of the department of State Security of the Ministry of Home Affairs. Between 1999 and 2003 she was senior manager/director of the influential consulting firm KPMG (later Atos/KPMG-Consulting).
 Political career
In 2003, Verdonk was appointed Minister for Integration and Immigration. She soon developed a reputation for toughness and outspokenness, with her uncompromising immigration policies earning her the nickname IJzeren Rita (Iron Rita). Verdonk enjoys a rare level of recognition and popularity amongst voters, but is also reviled by many as a populist with an impulsive style of governing. In a few incidents she has been attacked physically for her policies, in June 2004 Verdonk was smeared with ketchup by two members of an extreme left organisation <ref name=KETCHUP>Onderzoek naar beschadiging raam Verdonk De Telegraaf</ref>. These small incidents, combined with the murder of Pim Fortuyn in 2002 and Theo van Gogh in 2004 were reasons for the Dutch Ministry of Home Affairs to monitor Verdonk's security tightly. This has led to some overreactions by Verdonk. When a hole was discovered in the window of her office at the Ministry of Justice on 4 November 2005, she asked the Dutch Forensic Institute was asked to investigate whether they were bullet holes.<ref name=GOGH>Raam werkkamer Verdonk beschoten NOS</ref> On November 5, 2005, the institute reported that it was unlikely that the damage resulted from bullet impact<ref name=UNLIKELY>'Ruit Verdonk waarschijnlijk niet beschoten' NU</ref>.
On April 4, 2006, Verdonk announced her ambition to become political leader and succeed Jozias van Aartsen as the lijsttrekker of the VVD for the coming elections, at the time expected in to take place 2006. Her direct competitors in the leadership election were staatssecretaris of Education Mark Rutte and MP Jelleke Veenendaal. Although her political views on subjects other then immigration and integration had mostly been unclear, she was a likely candidate. Shortly after announcing she would be candidate, a poll for the RTL-news estimated that 56% of the people preferred Verdonk as the leader of the VVD. Rita Verdonk was advised by Kay van der Linden, who also played a part in populist anti-immigration politician Pim Fortuyn's 2002 election campaign, which was cut short by his assassination on May 6. Several of her statements and policies seem to exploit xenophobic emotions in the country. On an official visit to Morocco, when visiting a poor neighbourhood, she remarked "I do not understand why these Moroccans come to the Netherlands. There is so much work to do here". She also proposed a national code of conduct which would oblige everyone to speak Dutch in the streets.<ref name=LANGUAGEOBL>Obligatory Dutch Language Eurotopics</ref>
On May 16, 2006, Verdonk has been criticized by prominent members of her own political party, the VVD, MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Gerrit Zalm, deputy prime minister. Verdonk decided, based on a recent ruling by the Hoge Raad (Supreme court), that Hirsi Ali never had acquired Dutch citizenship. According to the High Counsel, unless very special circumstances have arisen, a decision to grant someone Dutch citizenship cannot be valid if the subject had lied about his or her name and date of birth. In a broadcast on the Dutch public network, Hirsi Ali had declared that she had lied about her name and date of birth during the procedure. The decision by Verdonk caused a lot of controversy: VVD-deputy prime minister Zalm said he was surprised that events known for years suddenly resulted in action by Verdonk two days after a television broadcast about the past of Hirsi Ali. He said Verdonk has disqualified herself from being lijsttrekker for the VVD in the coming elections<ref name=HIRSI>Tekst Gerrit Zalm persconferentie Ayaan Hirsi Ali VVD</ref>. In a session in parliament on the issue of Hirsi Ali's citizenship (a unique event on itself), Verdonk stated that she had no choice in this matter because Hirsi Ali's passport was issued with an incorrect name and incorrect date of birth. Some members of parliament suggested that Verdonk's stern actions were a result of her political ambitions in the 2006 VVD leadership elections <ref name=LEADERSHIP>Verdonk heroverweegt naturalisatie NOS</ref>. The result of the debate was that Verdonk promised to have another look at the case and see if there was a way to have Hirsi Ali keep her citizenship.
On May 31, 2006, Verdonk lost out to Mark Rutte in the 2006 VVD leadership election with 46% of the vote<ref name=RUTTE>Mark Rutte nieuwe lijsttrekker VVD Link Dutch language NOS</ref>.
Telegraaf reported on 23 June 2006 that Verdonk discussed policies with Marco Pastors of Leefbaar Rotterdam<ref name=>Verdonk in gesprek met rechts De Telegraaf</ref>. The news report fueled fears that Verdonk might leave the VVD in order to form a new right-wing political party allied with Leefbaar Rotterdam and List Pim Fortuyn. Verdonk denied this rumour<ref name=RUMOR>Verdonk ontkent geruchten over vertrek uit VVD NU</ref>
On June 27 2006 Verdonk informed parliament of her decision to allow MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali her Dutch passport. According to Verdonk, Hirsi Ali had presented to her new convincing evidence regarding the appropriateness of her last name and on retrospection the false date of birth did not carry that much weight. The next day, a parliamentary debate took place, in which minister Verdonk and prime-minister Jan Peter Balkenende were questioned by the parliament about the decision. Although the debate for a long time seemed to be stalwart, it took a quite drastic turn when the prime-minster, at the end of the first period of the debate, stated that Hirsi Ali had to sign a letter in which she took the blame for the whole situation in order to retain her citizenship. Otherwise, the solution would not be acceptable for minister Verdonk. In the second period of the debate, a vote of no confidence was proposed by the green party GroenLinks, which was, among others, supported by the Balkenende cabinet coalition partner Democrats 66. The vote did not meet the required majority though, as the right-wing populist LPF opposed it. Because a coalition partner supported the motion—a unique situation in itself for Dutch politics—the Balkenende cabinet had to decide if this had consequences for Rita Verdonk as minister, and the second Balkenende cabinet.
Van Beek, a MP for the VVD, stated after the debate that it would be almost unthinkable that if Verdonk resigned, the cabinet would stay intact, as one the coalition partners of the cabinet had lost its confidence in the minister.<ref name=CONFIDENCE>Cabinet crisis as D66 demands Verdonk's resignation Expatica</ref>. D66, feeling unsatisfied that minister Verdonk did not resign because of the debate, withdrew its support for the cabinet, resulting in its fall on June 29<ref name=FALL>Kabinet Balkenende-2 gevallen NOS</ref>.
In the 2006 election Verdonk received a greater number of preference votes (620,555) than the VVD lijsttrekker Mark Rutte (553,200).<ref>(Dutch)"Verdonk verslaat Rutte; Koser Kaya verdringt Bakker", Volkskrant, 2006-11-27.</ref>. As a direct consequence on November 28 she held a press conference in which she urged the party to rethink their policies via a special committee. She also expressed her desire to become party leader but would for the present remain loyal to Rutte. <ref>(Dutch)"Verdonk wil andere koers partij", www.nu.nl, 2006-11-28.</ref> A few hours later on November 28, after meeting with the party, she withdrew both of her ideas. <ref>(Dutch)"Rutte weerstaat aanval", www.nu.nl, 2006-11-28.</ref>
Following the swearing in of the new parliament following the 2006 elections Verdonk was dealt a severe political blow when Labour Party leader Wouter Bos proposed a motion to offer a general pardon to 26'000 asylum seekers who had had asylum applications turned down under the the previous cabinet. <ref>(Dutch)"Motie generaal pardon aangenomen", www.nos.nl, 2006-11-28.</ref> During her tenure as Minister for Immigration she had specifically cited the rejection of those 26'000 as an example of her toughening of the immigration laws (see Policy below). The motion was passed with a 75-74 majority with Verdonk's VVD, Prime Minister Balkenende's CDA, and the right-wing PvdV and SGP parties dissenting. Both Verdonk and Prime Minister Balkenende criticized the motion, and there has been speculation that this could result in Verdonk's resignation from the cabinet. <ref>(Dutch)"Kritiek Balkenende op PvdA en SP", www.nos.nl, 2006-12-03.</ref>
Verdonk's most discussed propositions and decisions are:
- In order to reduce migration through marriage, she has proposed that partners of Dutch citizens are only allowed to immigrate into the Netherlands if the Dutch partner earns more than 120% of the minimum income.<ref>(Dutch)Template:Cite web</ref>
- She refused to grant a general pardon to around 26,000 asylum seekers who had their asylum application turned down but who have been living in the Netherlands for more than 5 years. Since they had entered the Netherlands before the new Foreigner law, a special arrangement was required. Instead of a general pardon Verdonk chose a case by case approach.
- To integrate migrants into the Dutch society, every person who wants to immigrate into the Netherlands must pass an integration test, except for those who come from other European Union-member states, United States, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. It tests knowledge of the Dutch language, political system and social conventions. The test must be taken before entering the Netherlands, preferably in a Dutch embassy in the country of origin.
- "Oudkomers", migrants who have lived in the Netherlands for a long time, but are not "integrated", are also requested to take the exam. She has also attempted to apply make these tests mandatory for Dutch nationals who were born and raised outside the Netherlands . The constitutionality of these tests, especially its application to oudkomers and Dutch nationals has been questioned both by the Council of State, which advises government on all proposed laws, and various parties in the parliament including the VVD, her own party. These proposals will come into effect in January 2007.
Minister Verdonk was called to parliament for the following issues:
- In October 2005 it was discovered that civil servants of the Immigration & Naturalisation Services had informed the Congolese embassy and authorities that several of the people sent back to the Democratic Republic of Congo had claimed asylum in the Netherlands. This information is considered confidential and should not have been disclosed to the Congolese authorities. Verdonk at first denied any wrongdoing on behalf of herself or her civil servants, but later admitted that in a several cases the Congolese embassy had been informed of the fact that several of the returnees had applied for asylum in the Netherlands. According to members of the opposition this information could put returnees (in this case to Congo) at risk of torture but no evidence of this has been put forward by any party or organisation. Verdonk maintains that no other sensitive information was transferred to the Congolese authorities in accordance with the findings of a special committee (Commissie Havermans).
- In December 2005, a cell-complex for denied refugees at Amsterdam airport burned down after a fired had been started by one of the refugees. Eleven refugees died, and surviving refugees reported that they had to wait more than 45 minutes before being released from their cell. Also a man suspected of connections with terrorist organizations had been able to escape. Before the fire's investigation was completed, Verdonk stated that prison workers adequately handled the circumstances. Subsequently, in September 2006, she granted temporary stay permits to many of the victims of the Schiphol airport detention center fire, overriding the court hearing procedures.
As a minister, Verdonk has proposed the following, which have not become law:
- In October 2005, Verdonk proposed a ban on Muslim women wearing the burqa in public places, on the grounds that the burqa, which covers the face, is a security risk since suicide bombers could use it as a disguise. She also cancelled a meeting with Dutch Muslim leaders when one of (the 30 of) them would not shake hands with her, because she is a woman. She has said that "the time for cosy tea-drinking" Muslim groups had passed.
- In January 2006, Verdonk proposed the adoption of a national code of conduct, listing the most important conventions of Dutch society, to facilitate the integration of migrants. She was inspired by a similar initiative undertaken by the Rotterdam municipality. One of the obligations would be for everybody to speak the Dutch language in the streets. <ref name=LANGUAGEOBL>Obligatory Dutch Language Eurotopics</ref> <ref name=TAALEIS>Op straat alleen Nederlands Volkskrant</ref>
- Upon receiving Dutch citizenship, immigrants would have to sing the first stanza of the national anthem, the Wilhelmus.
- In March 2006, Verdonk considered sending homosexual asylum seekers from Iran back because they are no longer prosecuted, despite the general public conception that acts of homosexuality were still punishable by death. She noted that homosexuality in itself is not punishable by death sentence in Iran. In response to parliamentary criticism, the Minister announced on March 4 that all asylum cases involving homosexual Iranians would be assessed on an individual basis <ref name=IRAN>Iraanse homo's niet klakkeloos weg NOS</ref>
Most of her executed policy comes down to a strict application of the Alien Integration Act of 1998 (Wet Inburgering Nieuwkomers), which was introduced by Job Cohen, the social democratic junior minister of Justice in the Second Cabinet Kok.
- In January 2006, Verdonk received the Dutch Big Brother Award for "promoting privacy violations".
- In Amnesty International's magazine Wordt Vervolgd, former threefold Prime Minister and UN commissioner for refugees Ruud Lubbers said that "Verdonk should not finish her job" and "The Netherlands are in a spasm (...) It would help if we could 'de-Verdonk' the situation".
 External links
|Dutch Minister for Integration and Immigration|