FEATURE-Victims of Dutch childcare allowance scandal struggle to move on

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* Victims of benefits scandal await ruling on rights and compensation * Anti-racism groups want ethnic profiling banned

* Parliament launches new inquiry and may recommend reform By Ferry Biedermann

AMSTERDAM, March 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When Martine van Bruggen was accused of fraud by Dutch authorities and ordered to repay thousands of euros in childcare allowance, she assumed that “a bug in the system” was the source of the error. A decade later, she is one of 55 parents who have filed a racial discrimination complaint against the national tax agency for using ethnic profiling in an anti-fraud campaign – a high-profile scandal that has led the government to resign in 2021.

“Now my life is (still) good, but in those 10 years a lot has happened. We very easily could have not made it,” said Van Bruggen, one of thousands of parents to have received initial compensation from the government. Others wrongly accused of fraud by the Dutch tax and customs administration are still struggling to recover.

Many were pushed into poverty because they had to repay large sums of money and were registered as fraudsters, which hampered their job prospects. Some have lost their homes, according to lawyers and welfare groups.

The tax authority’s anti-fraud campaign has targeted low-income families, official reports have shown, disproportionately hitting ethnic minorities. The agency declined to comment on individual discrimination complaints filed by Van Bruggen and other parents with the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights.

But he admitted using ethnic profiling https://news.trust.org/item/20211020095858-p47ao, such as referencing dual nationalities to compile watch lists and develop fraud detection algorithms. Marnix van Rij, the new Secretary of State for Tax Affairs, called the practice illegal and by February 2 nearly 20,000 falsely accused people had received initial compensation. About 32,000 others have applied.

“NO PLACE” FOR RACISM? But despite the compensation package and the government’s contrition – Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the case “a colossal stain https://www.Reuters.com/world/dutch-government-resigns-over-childcare-subsidies -scandal-2021-01-15” – anti-racism and human rights activists say ethnic profiling persists and call for a nationwide ban.

They hope that complaints of discrimination, which the country’s human rights institute is currently investigating, could add to pressure on the government to ban such methods in all state bodies. “Then you will have a fundamental verdict from the official national institute appointed for this purpose which says, this is discrimination under the Equal Treatment Act,” said Juliette Bonneur of the anti-discrimination agency RADAR.

A new parliamentary inquiry into the benefits scandal launched last month could also recommend policy reforms. Asked whether institutional racism played a role in the scandal, the chair of the inquiry, Selima Belhaj of the centrist coalition party D66, said she was starting “without making assumptions”.

The new government coalition agreement signed in January says there is “no place” for institutional racism, but does not admit its existence in government bodies, nor does it call for an outright ban on racism. ethnic profiling. “REALLY DISCRIMINATORY”

For Van Bruggen, then a bank worker, the first letter from the tax agency came in 2011, accusing her of fraud and demanding that she pay back five years of alimony for childcare costs for one of her two daughters. . As is customary in the Netherlands, Van Bruggen received a means-tested benefit from the state which covered part of the costs.

The two girls attended the same child care centers between 2006 and 2011, but the letter from the tax office only referred to one of them – Noa, who has the same last name as her late Turkish father – Dutch. His sister, Nina, on the other hand, bears his mother’s surname.

“At the time, it didn’t occur to me that it had anything to do with his last name… It just makes it racist, really discriminatory,” Van Bruggen said by phone from his home in the town of Kampen. She initially thought the apparent error could be easily fixed, but like thousands of other parents, she discovered that the tax authority would not budge.

DODGE THE QUESTION? Despite the political fallout from the scandal, Dutch authorities continue to “dodge” the question of whether institutional racism played a role, said Bonneur of RADAR, a nonprofit organization.

She has worked with eight of the 55 parents who have filed race discrimination complaints with the rights institute. Samira Rafaela, member of the European Parliament for D66, said the country could already take “corrective action” if it had recognized that racism was a problem in certain state institutions.

Orlando Kadir, a lawyer of Surinamese origin, ended up reimbursing the tax administration when the entity refused to yield. “I’m a legal professional, but at some point I even started to doubt myself,” said Kadir, one of several lawyers who helped expose the scandal.

He has no doubt that racism motivated the false accusations, recalling a meeting for victims he called. “It was 90% dark, let’s say ethnic. The white Dutch people there were mostly partners,” said Kadir, who continues to support hundreds of victims seeking damages.

For some, however, no amount of money will compensate them for the ordeal. “It destroyed two businesses that I had,” said Melitia Atminah, one of the parents who was found unfairly targeted.

“I couldn’t save for a pension, my family suffered, I’m not healthy anymore.” ($1 = 0.9122 euros)

(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)


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