Poor response as Netherlands enforces partial burqa ban

A partial ban on Islamic face veil proposed 14 years ago finally came into effect in the Netherlands on Thursday without much impact at least initially, local reports say.

Under the Partial Ban on Face-covering Clothing Act, wearing ‘burqa’ (covering the body and face and eyes too behind a sort of lattice) and ‘niqab’ (covering the face but not the eyes) is illegal in some public spaces such as schools, hospitals, public buildings and public transport.

The new rule also bans ski masks, full-face helmets and balaclavas.

Police, officials, transport operators and hospitals say the ban may not work.

Pedro Peters, a spokesperson of the RET transport network, said the ban is not a priority for police.

Drivers cannot help the government in enforcing the ban if police do not immediately respond to their alerts on passengers wearing full-face veils. They cannot inconvenience other passengers by making them wait till the police arrive.

Peters said drivers can at the most inform errant passengers about the new law and request them to follow it to avoid the $167 fine.

Hospitals said their priority is to treat patients irrespective of what they wear.

Femke Halsema, the mayor of Amsterdam, opposed the new law which she said the city may find hard to implement.

Halsema, a left liberal, is a long-time critic of the far-right leader Geert Wilders who first proposed the ban in 2005.

Rotterdam’s mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, said the new law is facing hiccups because of shortage of police to enforce it.

Many other cities said they will not fine those who violate the ban.

Muslims in the Netherlands regard the face veil ban as discriminatory against their community.

Only some 200 to 400 Dutch women regularly wear burka or niqab.

Wilders welcomed the enforcement of the ban by calling it a historic day.

The government has instructed security officials to tell veiled women to show their faces. If the women refuse, they can be denied access to public buildings and fined at least $167.

Ban in Europe

France was the first country in Europe to ban the wearing of full-face veil in public in 2011. Religious clothing including headscarves has been banned in French schools since 2004.

Denmark, which banned full-face veils last year, imposes a fine of fine of $150 on first time violators. The fine amount will go up for repeat offenders.

Austria banned face veils in 2017 under a law requiring people to show their facial features from chin to hairline. Those who violate the rule will face a fine up to $166.

Bulgaria introduced burqa ban in 2016. Offenders will face a fine up to $833. However, the rule will not apply to people playing sport, at work or in a shrine.

Belgium banned full-face veils in public in July 2011.  Offenders will face fine or up to seven days in jail.

Belgium has around a million Muslims but only 300 people wear burka or niqab regularly.

European countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are debating ban on full-face veil.