Dutch ban on burqas in public places takes effect

A woman wearing Islamic dress pulls a shopping trolley along a street in Rotterdam on July 29, 2019.
A woman wearing Islamic dress pulls a shopping trolley along a street in Rotterdam on July 29, 2019.PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - The Netherlands banned the wearing of a face-covering veil, such as a burqa or niqab, in public buildings and on transport from Thursday (Aug 1) 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.

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

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 on Thursday, 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, so the ban also applies to face-covering helmets or hoods, punishable by a fine of 150 euros ($165).

The Dutch law does not ban the wearing of a burqa on the street, unlike France's ban which took effect in 2010. Belgium, Denmark and Austria have similar laws.

'CANNOT BE ENFORCED'

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

"Ridiculous. I find it ridiculous. You should respect each other's values and I think it's the dumbest rule they ever thought of," Anne Spillner, 28, told AFP.

Jan Jans, 57, 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.

Hasnaa, 21, who declined to give her surname, said people "should have this freedom to wear whatever we want, to express ourselves just through the way that we look."

But Saskia, 67, who similarly declined to provide her surname, said she was in favour of the ban "because you cannot see who is behind it (the burqa). If somebody covers themselves from head 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.