BELGIAN'S IN HOLLAND
Mr K. Richard Cross gives an interesting account in the ‘Nation’ of Holland at the present time, and from the following extract a good idea may be gleaned, of the problem with which that stalwart little country is faced in the number of Belgian refugees within its borders.
The one paramount subject which absorbs the minds of the. Dutch at the present _ moment is the entertainment of the Belgian refugees. It is an urgent question with ns in England. But wo have only /0,000 or 80,000 of them. Holland has had 800,000. and still has; 300,000, of whom more than 200,000 are entirely dependent. for their shelter and maintenance upon national or other charity. Think what this means! The- population of Holland is loss than one-seventh, her revenue less than one-tenth of our own. Yet she is maintaining about four times as many Belgians as we are. That is to say, in proportion to her resources, she is doing 40 times as much as we are. The people of Holland are, indeed, nobly fulfilling the pledge given in the Queen's Speech at tho opening of their Parliament, that Holland would receive with, open arms all the unfortunate who might seek refuge within her borders. Private hospitality is providing for scores of thousands'. One Dutch lady—a baroness—told us that she had 200 at her country seat, though she, added, with a good-humored sigh, that they had eaten all her pheasants and snared all her hares. A working man told us that ho had 10 in his house. We •heard of not a few similar instances of kindly generosity. A delightful mansion —palace it would be called in Italy—facing one of the great canals of Amsterdam had been turned into a hospital, the pictures and panels boarded up for fear of damage, but every requisite for nursing, in personnel and” equipment of the be-st. We found the leaders of Amsterdam society working from morning till night in sorting clothing and keeping up to_ date an effective register of fugitives. Wo were told that there was a great demand for children, who must have blue eyes and fair hair, be exactly three years old, and be. good Protestants—the last n difficult test to apply to a nation where Protestants are only 1 per cent, of the population. The ladies who are dealing with, the clothing sent from England seem to have their difficulties. Kilk liberty gowns, dress suits, hunting costumes, and dancing slippers are not the most suitable attire for Belgian artisans and peasants. An influential central committee, under the presidency of M. Th. Stuart, one of the most eminent of Dutch lawyers, is working incessantly in superintending the efforts of tho* different localities through _ the country. The Government are willing to recoup the local authorities for the cost of erecting buildings of wood and eteraito for housing the refugees. and to allow 35 to 40 cents (7d to 8d) a day towards their maintenance. But in some districts the number of refugees- is so great that the local authorities cannot cope with it. At Flushing live large wooden sheds, ordinarily used for the storage of coal, are now each occupied by some hundreds of refugees, many of them women and cMldlren. Here there is no separation of the sexes or special provision for infants or expectant mothers. The roofs of these sheds are full of holes, and there is no provision for heating. Similarly, in tho great Antwerp canal boats used for tho transport of beets, wood, and coal, which have come to Flushing and Sluis, light and air can only bo secured by the opening of battens or hatches, thus letting in rain a-nd cold. In these places it is clear that the accommodation now used is absolutely impossible as a provision for the cold weather now coming on. In many places tho Belgians have taken refuge in barnsj stables, and outhouses, which are now required for the storage of crops and the wintering of cattle. Some alternative accommodation for them is immediately required. The same condition of things exists with regard to the schoolhouses now occupied by refugees. The schools have been closed, but the education authorities naturally cannot permit this to continue much longer. In one. place we found the school occupied half the day by Belgian and tho other half by Dutch children. And at Amsterdam, where there are 4,000 Belgians in the dock sheds, special schools and kindergartens are already being set up, which the children seemed, greatly to appreciate. The diet in the camps erected at the cost of the Government is excellent. Some of them have attached to them a. skilled medical man and trained nurses of, great capacity. But in some of tho smaller towns the local authorities have only been able as yet to arange a diet of bread and black coffee, with soup on alternate days. Only small progress has been made as yet with regard to the problem of employment of the refugees. In the great camp for 6,000 people which Baron Collot d’Escury is establishing at the . little village of Hontenisse, a number of men are engaged in the work of construction, and many of the women are employed in cooking, washing, and sowing. But the great majority of the refugees have as yet nothing to do but to 101 l about and go to sleep. Ho blame is to bo attached to the Dutch in this respect, for wo have not so’ved the problem in England yet. But unless something is done to solve it i both countries the unfortunate Belgians will go back to their native land when the war is over with their efficiency and character greatly impaired. For such a calamity no indemnity can compensate.
Permanent link to this item
BELGIAN'S IN HOLLAND, Evening Star, Issue 15693, 6 January 1915