In the Netherlands, more muslim children are being sent 'home' for school....
But, what happens when they want to go back to the Netherlands...
Adel, his wife and five young children live above his car repair shop on a busy thoroughfare between Cairo and the Nile delta. On a recent Friday, with no school, the children were bored. They hung around the shop because playing outside was not an option, with the traffic out front and a railway out the back. Until a year ago Adel and his family lived in the Osdorp neighbourhood of Amsterdam.
"I miss Holland," said 12-year-old Samira, the eldest daughter. In Amsterdam she attended As-Seddieq, an Islamic school that has been at odds with the education inspectors for years. In Egypt she goes to a public school where classes are in Arabic, a language she barely speaks. "It will come with time," said Adel.
Adel too would rather have stayed in the Netherlands. "Everything is taken care of there." But he lost the lease on his shawarma restaurant, and he felt hounded by the child protection services. "In the Netherlands you are not allowed to raise your children the way you should."
Last year as many as three hundred Egyptian-Dutch children were moved from Amsterdam to Egypt by their parents. (There are no national statistics.) This is twice as many as Moroccan-Dutch children moving back to Morocco. The numbers have alarmed deputy education minister Sharon Dijkstra who asked the education inspectorate to investigate them. Dijkstra called the trend 'undesirable', because it is an obstacle to integration if the children return to the Netherlands later in life.
The ministry's investigation revealed several reasons why parents in Amsterdam are sending their children to Egypt. "It appears that the parents feel the quality of education in Egypt is higher than in the Netherlands," Dijkstra wrote to parliament in April. "A number of them feel the culture and the education package in Egypt is more appropriate." Other parents cited conflicts between ethnic groups at school, or personal reasons like divorce or illness.
A more varied picture emerges from a dozen interviews with the parents of Egyptian-Dutch children conducted by NRC Handelsblad in Egypt. None of the parents wanted to see their full name in print, mostly because they were afraid to lose child support or other benefits.
Adel may say his main motive was economic, but he complained most about the freedom and rights granted to children in the Netherlands. He is afraid to lose custody if he spanks his children. His brother's conviction for child kidnapping scared him. After divorcing his Dutch wife, Adel's brother had taken their two children to Egypt in violation of the custody agreement. When he returned to the Netherlands for work he was arrested and sent to prison for three years.
That wasn't the last of it. "When I sent my wife and children to Egypt last year I too was immediately suspected of child kidnapping." Someone at his children's school had reported Adel to the authorities, and he was arrested upon his return to the Netherlands. His wife had to phone the authorities from Egypt, and tell them she and the children had moved there of their own accord, to get Adel released.
"If your name is Ahmed or Abdullah appearances are against you," Adel said. "All it takes is a rumour to have the police or child services knock on your door."
It is a recurrent theme among Egyptian fathers. Just because they have different ideas about how to raise their children, people in the Netherlands are quick to suspect them of child abuse, they say.
"My nightmare is to see my 16-year-old daughter walk in the door with a boyfriend and not being able to do anything about it," said Mohamed in his apartment on the 15th floor in Shubra, a busy popular neighbourhood in Cairo. Mohamed, who owned a restaurant in Amsterdam, moved his Dutch wife and four children back to Egypt seven years ago. He joined them three years ago.
Like Adel, Mohamed first offered an economic explanation. "The cost of life in Egypt is much lower." But he also told of his fear the ethnic neighbourhood in Amsterdam where the family lived, and the ethnic school his daughter attended, would have a negative impact on her.
"All it takes is a couple of bad friends," he said. "We were all deadly afraid our kids would turn out like those young kids hanging out in the streets and ruining it for everybody. We wanted to be able to step in, forcefully if necessary, but you can't do that in the Netherlands. How can you control your children if you're not even allowed to slap them?"