Cleaning Up Amsterdam: A Punitive Village for Dutch Ne'er-Do-Wells

Amsterdam is planning to introduce a program that will send abusive neighbors and vandals to punitive housing outside of the city center. The hope is that it will deter perennial bullies, but it is being criticized for its similarity to the "scum villages" proposed by right-wing populist politician Geert Wilders.

My home, my castle. Zoom
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My home, my castle.

First there was an effort to clean up the red-light district in Amsterdam. Then came new laws regulating who could frequent "coffee shops" in the city and elsewhere in Holland for a joint. Now, the Dutch capital is introducing a plan to punish bad behavior by sending chronic neighborhood bullies and vandals out of the city center for a punitive stay in uncomfortable housing containers.

The proposal, which calls for identifying those who engage in repeated acts of harassment and other extreme forms of intimidation, is to go into effect early next year, according to Dutch media reports last week. Currently, the city is searching for a permanent location on the outskirts for multiple units to house the worst offenders. They are to have "minimal services."

"The aim of this scheme is not to reward people who behave badly with a brand-new, five-room home with a south-facing garden," Bartho Boer, a spokesman for Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan, told the Irish Times on Monday. "We have learned from the past and so we're well aware that while a neighborhood can usually deal with one problem family, if there are any more living together in close proximity the situation has a tendency to escalate."

'Scum Villages'

Some €1 million has been set aside for the plan, which seeks to target only the worst of the worst among repeat, small-time offenders. Once relocated to the housing units, they would be supervised by social workers or even police, should it become necessary. The plan calls for them to stay in the units for at least six months, according to Boer. The project will also include a new hotline that residents can call should they feel threatened or intimidated by their neighbors.

Van der Laan, a member of the center-left Labor Party, has been mayor of Amsterdam for the past two years, a period which has seen accelerated efforts in the city to shed its image as being a hotbed of prostitution and drugs. But his new plan is not uncontroversial. Many have pointed out its similarity to the proposal by right-wing populist politician Geert Wilders to set up what he called "tuigdorpen," or "scum villages," for repeat troublemakers. "Put all the trash together and leave normal people alone," Wilders, who is virulently anti-immigrant and anti-Islam, said at the time. Indeed, "tuigdorpen" has been nominated as the worst neologism of the year in Holland as a result.

But Boer rejected the comparison. "This is supposed to be a deterrent," he said. "It has to work."

Already, Holland has seen several similar experimental programs where persistent anti-social behavior was punished by a stay in a shipping container shelter. Amsterdam has also tested the model previously.

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