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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dutch Minister Hands Out Residency Permits to 30,000

DEN BOSCH, Netherlands -- Vipero Botari fled violence-wracked Congo 14 years ago with his wife and daughter to seek asylum and acceptance in the Netherlands. On Wednesday, Botari and his family finally got what they came for: residency permits.

The Botaris -- now including 4-year-old son Dieuci -- were the first of up to 30,000 people who will be granted residency under a Dutch "general pardon" for certain illegal immigrants, capping a dramatic softening of Dutch immigration policy after years of cracking down.

In a ceremony in a modern meeting hall attached to the 16th-century Den Bosch Town Hall, the Botaris were personally handed their permits by junior Justice Minister Nebahat Albayrak.

"This family is living proof of why the pardon was a good move," said Albayrak, herself the daughter of Turkish immigrants.

The pardon applies only to asylum-seekers who arrived before a new immigration law was adopted April 1, 2001, and remained in the country despite their applications being rejected.

Under Albayrak's hard-line anti-immigration predecessor, Rita Verdonk, 11,000 people in the same category left or were deported, 4,200 of them kicked out forcibly.

Once one of Europe's most welcoming countries, the Netherlands became increasingly hostile toward immigrants amid rising crime and unemployment among mainly North African newcomers, who critics said did little to join or contribute to Dutch society.

Under the general pardon, immigrants must also have lived in the Netherlands full-time since 2001 and not have been convicted of a crime for which the maximum sentence is over a month imprisonment. They must agree to drop all legal actions against immigration authorities.