Turkish immigrants sue Dutch over integration policy

Dutch women at a protest in the Netherlands in 2008
Image caption Turks make up a significant immigrant community in the Netherlands

The Dutch government is facing a huge compensation claim after forcing Turkish immigrants to pay for integration courses.

A campaign group says 30,000 Turks took the courses, which have since been ruled to be in violation of an agreement between the EU and Turkey.

The interior ministry says most of them are not entitled to their money back.

But the Foundation for Victims of Integration is suing to reclaim their costs, of more than 100m euros (£87m).

The courses were introduced under the 2007 Civic Integration Act and meant that anyone who wished to emigrate to the Netherlands had to pass an exam first.

However, two months ago the Dutch Interior Minister, Piet Hein Donner, was forced to cancel the courses after the Netherlands Court of Appeals ruled they were in violation of an agreement between Turkey and the European Union which stipulates there can be no discrimination between Turkish and EU citizens.

The association agreement was designed to strengthen relations between Turkey and the EU.

Anyone who sat the exams after 16 August 2011 will be entitled to a refund.

But, speaking in parliament on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the interior minister said that: "The costs incurred by the Turkish people before that date were legitimate. Therefore those people who sat the exam before that date are not entitled to get their money back."

The individual claims range from 1,000 to 5,000 euros for costs including travel, study expenses and exam fees.

Bilal Coskun, the lawyer representing the Turkish claimants, told the BBC: "This old law kept families apart. People had to stay in Turkey until they had passed the exam, some husbands didn't see their wives for years.

"Our people suffered under the rule of the old integration policy - not just financially but emotionally too - and they are entitled to compensation for this."

Mr Coskun says they are hoping to agree on a settlement before the case reaches court. But, on Tuesday, the government rejected that option saying: "The Turkish people are free to go to court and we will wait until the judges verdict."

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