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Ban on burqas in public places in the Netherlands takes effect

Between 200 and 400 women are estimated to wear a burqa or niqab in the country of 17 million people.

A woman wearing a burka in Rotterdam, Netherlands
A woman wearing a burka in Rotterdam, Netherlands
Image: Robin Utrecht via PA Images

THE NETHERLANDS HAS banned the wearing of a face-covering veil, such as a burqa or niqab, in public buildings and on transport from today as a contentious law on the garment worn by some Muslim women came into force.

Between 200 and 400 women are estimated to wear a burqa or niqab in the country of 17 million people.

After more than a decade of political debate on the subject, the Dutch legislation was passed in June 2018.

Far-right politician Geert Wilders had proposed the face-covering veil ban back in 2005. 

“I believe we should now try to take it to the next step,” Wilders wrote in a tweet today, urging that the simple headscarf should be banned as well.

The Dutch interior ministry issued a statement saying: “From now on the wearing of clothing which covers the face is banned in educational facilities, public institutions and buildings, as well as hospitals and public transport.”

People must be recognisable in public spaces. That means the ban also applies to face-covering helmets or hoods. Those not adhering to the ban can be punishable by a fine of €150.

The Dutch law does not ban the wearing of a burqa on the street, unlike France’s ban which took effect in 2010.

Other European countries such as Belgium, Denmark and Austria have similar laws.

‘Cannot be enforced’

The move appeared to be unpopular with the general public in the Netherlands. 

“Ridiculous. I find it ridiculous. You should respect each other’s values and I think it’s the dumbest rule they ever thought of,” one woman told AFP. 

Another man agreed. “I think it’s a bad law… because it cannot be enforced. It’s a mix-up between combatting terrorism and Islam and religion,” he said.

A second woman said people “should have this freedom to wear whatever we want, to express ourselves just through the way that we look”.

However, one woman said she was in favour of the ban ”because you cannot see who is behind it (the burqa). If somebody covers themselves from heat to toe and covers their face, then it is a threat”.

Not a priority

For the ban to be enforced, the interior ministry said it was instructing school, hospital and transport staff to refuse entry to women wearing a veil. And if the woman refuses to comply, then “they can call the police”.

But the police, who frequently call for more resources from the government, said they did not regard enforcing the ban as “an absolute priority”. 

The public transport authorities said bus, tram and metro drivers would not stop to ask a burqa-clad woman to leave or wait for police to arrive, as that would lead to delays. 

“Drivers can very well decide not to say anything,” said the head of the OVNL public transport association, Pedro Peters. 

Hospitals also said they would still treat people regardless of what they are wearing.

Last year, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Ireland would not ban the wearing of the burqa in public. 

“We are not proposing any burqa bans or any legislation on what people can or can’t wear on their heads – so short answer is [there are] no plans to do that,” Varadkar said.

Varadkar said Ireland would not be following in the footsteps of some other jurisdictions, stating:

My view on it… I don’t like it but I think people are entitled to wear what they want to wear.
I believe in the freedom of religion. I don’t agree with the doctrine of every religion or necessarily any religion, but I do believe in the freedom of religion.

The Taoiseach said “religions make their own laws”, indicating that he would not be using his power to weigh in on such matters.

“There is a big difference in saying what you think should be done and whether you are going to use the power of the law to enforce it,” he said.

Includes reporting by Christina Finn and © AFP 2019

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