Junior justice minister Mark Harbers has used his right of discretion to grant residency permits to two children who were threatened with deportation back to Armenia, Dutch media said on Saturday afternoon.
Lili (12) and Howick (13) can stay in the Netherlands after all because of ‘changed circumstances’ NOS quoted the ministry as saying. Harbers had earlier refused to use his powers to allow the children, who do not qualify for the amnesty for child refugees, to remain.
The children disappeared from their carers’ home on Friday night, shortly after a last-ditch legal attempt to keep them in the country failed, prompting a major police search. But their lawyer said late on Saturday afternoon that the children had turned up again safe and well.
It is unclear if their disappearance prompted the change of heart.
‘In the case of the children Lili and Howick, the Dutch government has done all it could, together with the Armenian authorities, to prepare solid care for them. Armenia is a safe country where the children could be reunited with their mother,’ the ministry said.
‘However, developments in the past few hours have shown that the welfare and the safety of the children could no longer be guaranteed. Taking all this into consideration, the minister has decided the children can stay in the Netherlands.’
Late on Friday night, judges ruled in an emergency session that additional information about the psychiatric problems facing the children’s mother, who was deported a year ago, was not enough to prevent Lili and Howick being sent to Armenia.
Children’s ombudsman Margrite Kalverboer said the decision to deport the children is ‘a low point’ in children’s rights in the Netherlands. ‘Howick and Lili hebben have no future in Armenia. Their future is here,’ she wrote on Twitter.
Prime minister Mark Rutte said at his weekly press conference on Friday afternoon that he understood the emotions surrounding the case. However ‘you have to be tough in the case of people with no right to stay,’ the prime minister said.
Lili and Howick do not qualify for the government’s amnesty for well-rooted child refugees because their mother did not cooperate with efforts to deport the family – a key condition which must be met.
Celebrities, princess Laurentien and even shockblog GeenStijl have expressed their support for the children. The chairman of the Dutch police union NPB said on talk show Pauw on Friday night the decision is ‘scandalous’.
The issue also threatened to tear a hole in the cabinet. Minority partner ChristenUnie and the Liberal democratic D66 were both facing calls from party supporters to back the children.
And ChristenUnie MP Joel Voordewind said he would continue to urge the cabinet to widen the qualification rules for the child refugee amnesty.