A Political Will Deficit on Migration: The Resignation of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte

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This paper examines the role of political will in shaping immigration policies, with a focus on the resignation of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte due to disagreements over migration. The significance of Rutte’s departure underscores the profound impact of migration on political stability and the urgent need for comprehensive solutions. The paper explores the complexities of the migration issue, including humanitarian, security, and economic dimensions, and the divisions it has revealed in Dutch society. It also highlights the broader implications for European countries and the need for a unified approach.

The study emphasizes the importance of political will in effectively managing migration and considers factors such as humanitarian needs, security risks, and economic impact. The proposed two-tier system for asylum seekers in the Netherlands is analyzed, highlighting the tensions between fairness and treatment. The paper concludes by emphasizing the need for political will to make difficult decisions, collaborate with other countries, and navigate the challenges posed by migration. Understanding the role of political will is essential for developing sustainable and equitable migration policies.


I. Introduction

The political landscape has been shaken by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s departure over immigration, underscoring the crucial role that political will plays in determining immigration laws. This significant occasion represents a historic first for the Netherlands. It highlights the profound social divisions present in that nation and the more significant difficulties European countries face in dealing with immigration. By investigating the events preceding Rutte’s resignation, we can learn important lessons about the intricate dynamics of political will in successfully tackling migration.


Significance of Rutte’s Resignation

The resignation of a prime minister over migration sends a powerful message about the gravity of the issue and its impact on governance. Rutte’s decision to step down underscores the profound impact of migration on political stability and the urgent need for comprehensive solutions.


Overview of the Migration Issue

One of the most critical problems of our day is migration. It includes various elements, such as humanitarian issues, security dangers, and financial ramifications. Governments struggle to strike the correct balance. Thus, political will becomes critical in developing and carrying out successful immigration policy.


Impact on Dutch Society

Migration has revealed significant rifts in Dutch society. Economic uncertainty, the refugee crisis, and recent terrorist incidents in nearby nations have all contributed to the rise in anti-immigrant sentiment. These elements have influenced political discourse and elevated the topic of migration in the public eye.


Broader Implications for European Countries

The Dutch government’s fall due to immigration issues serves as a reminder of the more significant problems besetting European nations. The humanitarian needs of refugees, national security concerns, and the social and economic effects on host countries must all be carefully balanced when formulating migration laws. A solid political resolve and a unified front among European nations are necessary for achieving this equilibrium.

Looking at Rutte’s resignation, we can better grasp the difficulties associated with migration and the need for political will to direct appropriate policy responses. We shall examine the precise driving forces and motivations that influenced the Dutch government’s policy towards immigration in the following parts, as well as the ramifications for both the Netherlands and the larger European backdrop.


II. The Migration Issue and Political Divisions in the Netherlands

A. Conflict between the VVD, CDA, D66, and ChristenUnie parties over asylum seekers

Migration has become a contentious issue in the Netherlands, leading to a clash of perspectives among vital political parties. The VVD and CDA, as the largest parties in the coalition government, stood at odds with the D66 and ChristenUnie over the treatment of asylum seekers. These differences in opinion regarding migration policies revealed deep-rooted divisions within Dutch politics.

The VVD and CDA, advocating for stricter measures, proposed a two-tier system for asylum. This system aimed to differentiate between refugees from conflict zones and those from other countries. By establishing distinct tiers, they sought to address concerns about the number of asylum seekers and the strain on resources.

However, the D66 and ChristenUnie vehemently opposed this approach, asserting that it would compromise fairness and the treatment of asylum seekers fleeing persecution. They maintained a more compassionate stance, emphasising the importance of upholding human rights and providing equal opportunities for all those seeking refuge.


B. The proposed two-tier system and its implications for fairness and treatment of asylum seekers

The proposed two-tier asylum system for the Netherlands sparked intense disagreements among the coalition parties. Refugees fleeing persecution from non-conflict nations would be placed in a separate tier under this arrangement, while those from war zones would be given precedence. This strategy attempted to manage the influx of asylum seekers better and distribute resources.

However, critics argued that such a system could compromise fairness and the principles of humanitarianism. By distinguishing between refugees based on their countries of origin, concerns arose regarding potential discrimination and unequal treatment. Critics further contended that every asylum seeker deserved equal consideration and protection, irrespective of their origin or the nature of the conflict they fled.


Lacking the balancing act

The clash over the proposed two-tier system reflects a broader debate on balancing managing migration effectively and upholding fundamental values of fairness and equality. This discord underscores the essential role of political will in shaping migration policies that are both humane and sustainable.

As we delve deeper into the motivations and perspectives of the different parties involved, we better understand the complex political will dynamics in navigating the challenges posed by migration. In the subsequent sections, we will explore why Rutte was willing to introduce the two-tier system and examine the reasons behind the D66 and ChristenUnie’s commitment to maintaining a more open and welcoming policy.


III. Political Will: Key to Effective Migration Management

A. Definition and importance of political will in addressing migration challenges

Political will plays a pivotal role in effectively managing the complexities of migration. It refers to the determination and resolve of policymakers to make informed and sometimes tricky decisions regarding migration policies. Political will is crucial because it sets the tone for addressing the multifaceted challenges posed by migration and provides the impetus for developing sustainable and equitable solutions.


B. Factors to consider: humanitarian needs, security risks, and economic impact

Politicians must have the political will to solve migration issues. The needs of refugees and asylum seekers who have escaped persecution, violence, and conflict must first be acknowledged and taken care of. It is crucial to uphold human rights and ensure they are safe and secure.

Secondly, political will must carefully evaluate security risks associated with migration. Balancing national security concerns with protecting vulnerable populations requires strategic decision-making and efficient border control measures.

Lastly, political will should also consider the economic impact of migration on host countries. Recognising both the potential benefits, such as cultural diversity and labour contributions, as well as the challenges, such as economic strains and integration, is crucial for sustainable migration management.


C. Making difficult decisions and collaborating with other countries for a shared burden

Political will involves making tough choices to manage migration effectively. This may include limiting the number of asylum seekers that can be admitted, establishing robust screening processes, and implementing integration programs. It requires the courage to address public concerns while upholding humanitarian values.

Moreover, political will necessitates international collaboration. Migration is a global issue that demands shared responsibility. Through cooperation and burden-sharing, countries can work together to manage the challenges presented by migration, including resource allocation, information sharing, and coordinated efforts to address root causes.

Political will is the driving force behind implementing comprehensive migration policies. It requires leaders to navigate complex political landscapes, overcome resistance, and prioritise the long-term benefits of sustainable and humane migration management.

By understanding the significance of political will, we can appreciate its role in shaping migration policies that balance humanitarian considerations, security imperatives, and economic realities. In the subsequent sections, we will delve into Rutte’s motivations for advocating the two-tier system and examine why the D66 and ChristenUnie emphasised maintaining an open and welcoming policy. These insights will further illuminate the intricate interplay between political will and migration management.


IV. Rutte’s Motivations for the Two-Tier System

A. Pressure from VVD and CDA to address concerns about the current asylum system

The advocacy for the two-tier system by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte can be attributed, to a significant extent, to the compelling influence exerted by his coalition partners, namely the VVD and CDA. The aforementioned political entities expressed their dissatisfaction with the perceived leniency of the extant asylum framework, contending that it engendered unlawful migration and exerted pressure on available resources.

The VVD and CDA, in alignment with their anti-immigration sentiment, saw the two-tier system as a potential solution to deter illegal immigration and protect national borders. Rutte, as the leader of the coalition government, faced mounting pressure to address these concerns and address what they viewed as vulnerabilities in the current asylum policies.


B. Rutte’s concerns about the growing immigrant population and the need for action

In addition to the sway exerted by his coalition partners, Rutte himself has articulated apprehensions regarding the escalating immigrant populace within the Netherlands. In a discourse delivered in 2017, the speaker underscored the pivotal juncture at which the nation had arrived, emphasising the imperative of implementing measures to curtail the influx of immigrants into the country.

The concerns expressed by Rutte regarding the expanding immigrant population were congruent with the prevailing anti-immigration sentiment that permeated the Netherlands during that period. The confluence of the economic crisis, the refugee crisis, and the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels has engendered a natural state of public apprehension and an acute perception of difficulty concerning matters about migration.


Statistical data supporting the decision

Drawing upon the extant corpus of search results, it is discernible that the Netherlands has undergone oscillations in the influx of asylum seekers and refugees throughout the preceding quinquennium. The data reveals a notable increase in asylum seekers between 2017 and 2018. Specifically, the figures indicate that in 2017, 31,327 individuals sought asylum; in 2018, this number experienced a substantial surge, reaching a count of 101,824 refugees.

In the year 2019, the Netherlands encountered a total of 29,435 individuals seeking asylum within its borders. However, as we transitioned into 2021, the nation witnessed a notable decrease in the number of asylum applications received from refugees, with a recorded figure of 24,624. According to the latest available data for 2022, the Netherlands witnessed a notable influx of individuals seeking asylum, with a total of 47,991 applicants recorded. Acknowledging that the data above may furnish only some of the migration patterns within the designated timeframe is imperative.


Year Total Number of Asylum Seekers/Refugees in the Netherlands
2017 31,327
2018 101,824
2019 29,435
2021 24,624
2022 47,991
Table 1: Represents the total number of asylum seekers or refugees in the Netherlands for each respective year


A Failure of Political Will on Migration
Table 2: Bar diagram representing the total number of asylum seekers or refugees in the Netherlands for each respective year

Lack of extensive data

Drawing upon the actual data, it becomes evident that the Netherlands has undergone a notable influx of individuals seeking asylum originating from Syria, Afghanistan, and Turkey within the past few years. In the year 2021, it was observed that individuals of Syrian origin emerged as the most prominent cohort, accounting for a substantial number of asylum applications, specifically amounting to 19,989. In September 2021, Afghanistan emerged as a prominent origin country, contributing significantly to the cohort of first-time asylum seekers, constituting a substantial 30% of the total.

Turkey has consistently maintained its position as one of the Netherlands’ primary countries of origin for asylum seekers. Regrettably, precise statistical data about the number of individuals seeking asylum from Venezuela and Colombia remains elusive. Recognising that the statistical data presented may not comprehensively encapsulate the migration patterns observed within the Netherlands throughout the preceding quinquennium is imperative.


Rutte’s Two-tier system as a remedy

Motivated by these pressing concerns, Rutte astutely identified the two-tier system as a plausible remedy to effectively mitigate the perceived deficiencies inherent in the existing asylum framework. The individual in question posited that the implementation of more stringent measures, specifically the establishment of a clear distinction between refugees originating from regions of armed conflict and those hailing from other nations, could potentially ease the burden on available resources and potentially mitigate the apprehensions commonly associated with the phenomenon of immigration.

The motivations of Rutte serve to underscore the complex and nuanced dynamics that exist within the realm of migration policies, wherein political pressures, public sentiment, and the imperative of political will converge to shape the decision-making process. In the forthcoming section, an examination will delve into the viewpoints of the D66 and ChristenUnie, elucidating their dedication towards upholding an inclusive and hospitable approach in the face of migration complexities.


V. D66 and ChristenUnie: Advocating for an Open and Welcoming Policy

A. Commitment to human rights, social justice, and a welcoming stance

The smaller political parties, namely the D66 and ChristenUnie, within the coalition government, have exhibited an unwavering dedication towards preserving human rights, pursuing social justice, and adopting an inclusive stance towards migration. The proponents espouse the implementation of policies that place the utmost importance on safeguarding and promoting the welfare of individuals seeking refuge and asylum.

The aforementioned political factions ardently espouse the core tenet of human rights, duly acknowledging the paramount significance of affording a secure refuge for individuals seeking respite from persecution, violence, and societal turbulence. The unwavering dedication to pursuing social justice is manifested in their comprehensive endeavour to guarantee equitable and impartial treatment for every individual, irrespective of their background or prevailing conditions.

In stark juxtaposition to the aforementioned two-tier system, the political parties D66 and ChristenUnie assertively underscore the imperative of adopting an all-encompassing and empathetic stance towards the intricate matter of migration. The contention posits that policy formulation ought to be predicated upon humanitarian considerations, thereby proffering assistance and avenues for advancement to individuals searching for sanctuary within the confines of the Netherlands.


B. D66’s history of supporting immigration reform and influencing public opinion

The Democratic Party 66 (D66) has an illustrious historical trajectory characterised by its steadfast commitment to championing comprehensive immigration reform and exerting a discernible impact on shaping public sentiment regarding this critical matter. In the year 2002, the political party initiated a strategic initiative. The primary objective of this initiative was to effectuate a paradigm shift in the prevailing public discourse by advocating for adopting a more inclusive and hospitable immigration policy.

The D66 party, in its strategic campaign, endeavoured to confront and contest prevailing negative perceptions and misconceptions about the intricate issue of immigration. The primary objective of their endeavour was to cultivate an enhanced comprehension of the constructive impacts brought forth by immigrants to Dutch society, concurrently accentuating the prospective advantages derived from a heterogeneous and multicultural community.


Public influence

The proactive approach adopted by the D66 party concerning immigration reform has exerted a notable influence on the formation of public sentiment. It has effectively contested the prevailing anti-immigrant sentiment. The alignment of their commitment to an open and welcoming policy with their broader progressive values and their belief in the significance of inclusivity and diversity is evident.

The perspectives espoused by the D66 and ChristenUnie parties effectively function as a mitigating force against the proposed implementation of a two-tier system. The steadfast dedication to the principles of human rights, social justice, and inclusivity serves as a poignant reminder of the imperative for political resolve that places paramount importance on empathy and equity in the realm of migration governance. In the subsequent sections, an in-depth analysis will be conducted to examine the intricate political ramifications associated with implementing the two-tier system. Furthermore, a comprehensive exploration will be undertaken to shed light on the European Union’s obstacles in formulating efficacious migration policies.


VI. Implications of the Two-Tier System

A. Mixed reactions and varying perspectives on its effectiveness and fairness

The proposed two-tier system for asylum in the Netherlands has evoked mixed reactions and engendered varying perspectives on its effectiveness and fairness. Supporters argue it could be necessary to deter illegal immigration and protect national borders. They believe differentiating between refugees from conflict zones and those from other countries would help manage resources more efficiently.

However, critics contend that the two-tier system raises concerns about fairness and the treatment of asylum seekers. They argue that such differentiation based on country of origin could lead to discrimination and unequal treatment. Critics emphasise the importance of maintaining equal consideration and protection for all individuals seeking refuge, regardless of their origin or the nature of the conflict they fled.


B. Potential political implications: government collapse, compromise, or policy changes

The political implications of the two-tier system remain uncertain. It could potentially lead to a government collapse if the proposal fails to garner sufficient support. Alternatively, the smaller parties in the coalition government, such as the D66 and ChristenUnie, might be compelled to compromise on their position to maintain the coalition’s stability.

Another possibility is adopting the two-tier system, accompanied by policy changes to address concerns critics raise. In such a scenario, the system’s implementation would be a critical challenge, requiring careful planning, monitoring, and evaluation to ensure its effectiveness and fairness.


C. How the political parties in the Netherlands responded to the issue of migration in the lead-up to the general election

In the lead-up to the upcoming general election in the Netherlands, migration has emerged as a deeply divisive issue among the country’s political parties. Disagreements over migration policy led to the collapse of the Dutch government, with coalition partners advocating for stricter measures to limit immigration. At the same time, Prime Minister Rutte pursued a more moderate approach. As a result, the Netherlands will hold a general election later this year to form a new parliament.

The issue of migration has sparked intense debates, driven by economic uncertainties, the refugee crisis, and recent terrorist attacks in neighbouring countries, which have fueled anti-immigrant sentiment. Different political parties have offered varying approaches, with some prioritising migrant integration and addressing issues like discrimination and language barriers, while others have called for stricter immigration controls and reducing the number of asylum seekers entering the country. The outcome of the upcoming election will significantly influence the future direction of migration policies in the Netherlands.


D. Uncertainty regarding implementation and impact on asylum seekers

The proposed two-tier system raises questions about its implementation and potential impact on asylum seekers. The specifics of how the system would be enacted and its precise consequences for individuals seeking refuge are yet to be determined.

Asylum seekers are vulnerable populations who often face dire circumstances, fleeing persecution, violence, and instability. It is essential to consider the potential ramifications of any policy changes on their well-being and access to protection. Striking a balance between managing migration effectively and ensuring the humane treatment of asylum seekers remains a complex challenge that requires political will and careful consideration.

The implications of the two-tier system extend beyond mere policy debates, underscoring the need for political will that prioritises the welfare of asylum seekers while addressing the concerns of the broader society. In the subsequent sections, we will examine the European Union’s migration policy, historical references to migration, and the overarching importance of political will in managing this complex issue.


VII. The European Union’s Migration Policy

A. Overview of the EU’s migration policy framework: Schengen, Dublin Regulation, and European Agenda on Migration

The European Union (EU) has established a comprehensive migration policy framework that addresses the challenges posed by migration. Critical components of this framework include the Schengen Agreement, the Dublin Regulation, and the European Agenda on Migration.

The Schengen Agreement enables passport-free travel within the Schengen area, fostering greater mobility among EU member states. It emphasises the concept of freedom of movement while also recognising the need for secure borders and effective management of migration flows.

The Dublin Regulation establishes criteria to determine which member state is responsible for processing asylum applications. Its objective is to ensure a fair and efficient system for processing asylum claims and avoid duplication of efforts among member states.

The European Agenda on Migration provides a policy framework that outlines the EU’s objectives and priorities in managing migration. It encompasses a range of aspects, including enhancing border security, supporting asylum systems, addressing the root causes of migration, and fostering cooperation with countries of origin and transit.


B. Balancing humanitarian needs, security concerns, and equitable burden sharing

The EU’s migration policy faces the challenge of balancing humanitarian needs, security concerns, and equitable burden sharing among member states. It recognises the importance of upholding human rights and protecting vulnerable populations while addressing security risks associated with migration.

The EU strives to develop policies that ensure the fair distribution of responsibilities and support among member states. By sharing the burden of migration, countries can collectively address challenges such as providing asylum, integration, and access to social services. This cooperative approach seeks to prevent overburdening individual member states and foster solidarity within the EU.


Some statistical data

According to the European Commission, around 310,400 asylum seekers were granted positive outcomes in first-instance decisions in 2022, with the largest group receiving refugee status. In March 2023, approximately 85,975 first-time asylum seekers applied for international protection in the EU, with Syrians and Afghans constituting the largest group. The UNHCR reported that by the end of 2022, Europe had around 21.8 million forcibly displaced and stateless individuals, including approximately 12.4 million refugees and 1.3 million asylum-seekers.

Furthermore, the European Union Agency for Asylum (EUAA) conducted an analysis indicating that about 966,000 asylum applications were lodged in 2022, marking the highest number since 2016. It is important to note that this figure includes around 4 million Ukrainians seeking refuge in Europe due to the Russian invasion that began in February 2022.

According to available search results, the top 10 countries of origin for asylum seekers in the EU in 2022 were Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey, Venezuela, Colombia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, and Somalia. These countries accounted for the most applicants seeking international protection in the EU, Norway, and Switzerland. In April 2023, Syrians, Afghans, Venezuelans, Colombians, and Turks remained the most active in applying for asylum in the EU+, representing a significant proportion of overall applications. During the first four months of 2023, Germany received the highest number of applications (31%), followed by France (16%), Spain (16%), and Italy (12%).


C. Challenges faced by the EU in managing migration effectively

Managing migration effectively presents numerous challenges for the European Union. The EU must grapple with the complexities of the ongoing refugee crisis, the need to safeguard external borders, and the imperative to address the root causes of migration.

The EU’s migration policy has encountered criticism for being perceived as too lenient or inadequate in deterring illegal immigration. Additionally, finding a harmonised approach among member states can be challenging due to differing priorities, political climates, and economic and social development levels.

Moreover, the EU faces the task of balancing short-term crisis management with long-term strategic planning. Adapting policies to changing migration dynamics and coordinating efforts with countries of origin and transit is crucial for sustainable migration management.


Political will is crucial for the EU

To address these challenges, political will within the EU is essential. Member states must demonstrate a shared commitment to effective migration management, foster greater cooperation, and develop policies that are both responsive to humanitarian needs and in line with security imperatives.

The EU’s migration policy framework is an ongoing endeavour, evolving to address new challenges and adapt to changing circumstances. In the subsequent section, we will explore historical references to migration, shedding light on the broader context of migration challenges and their historical significance.


VIII. Historical References: Putting Migration in Context

A. Notable historical examples of migration in Europe

Throughout history, Europe has witnessed significant waves of migration, each with its own drivers and consequences. The Great Migration, spanning the 5th to 8th centuries, saw the movement of people from Central Asia to Europe, bringing with them new languages, cultures, and religions.

Another significant historical example is the Huguenot migration in the 17th century. Thousands of French Protestants, known as Huguenots, migrated to various parts of Europe, including the Netherlands and England, to escape religious persecution.


B. The Netherlands’ history of immigration and periods of anti-immigrant sentiment

The Netherlands has a rich history of immigration dating back to the 16th century when Dutch explorers were among the first Europeans to colonise the Americas. In the 19th century, the country experienced an influx of immigrants from neighbouring European countries like Belgium, Germany, Poland, and Italy.

However, like other European countries, the Netherlands has also experienced periods of anti-immigrant sentiment. In the 1970s and 1980s, debates surrounding the integration of immigrants from former Dutch colonies, such as Indonesia and Suriname, sparked tensions and discussions about national identity.


C. Comparison with the current wave of migration and its drivers

The current wave of migration to Europe represents one of the largest since World War II. It is driven by a complex mix of factors, including the Syrian Civil War, conflicts in Libya and Africa, economic disparities, and political instability. These factors have forced individuals to flee their homes in search of safety and better opportunities.

Comparing historical migrations with the current wave helps contextualise the challenges faced by European countries today. It highlights the cyclical nature of migration and the recurring debates surrounding the integration of newcomers into existing societies.

The current wave of migration also poses unique challenges for political will and effective migration management. European countries must navigate the complexities of humanitarian needs, security concerns, and the socio-economic impact of migration while upholding their values of openness, tolerance, and inclusivity.

Understanding the historical references to migration provides valuable insights into the broader context of migration challenges and reminds us that migration has always been an integral part of European history. In the subsequent section, we will delve deeper into the importance of political will in effectively managing migration and addressing the concerns of all stakeholders involved.


IX. Conclusion

A. Recap of the significance of Rutte’s resignation and its implications

The resignation of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte over the issue of migration holds great significance, marking the first collapse of a government in Dutch history due to this contentious topic. It reflects the deep divisions within Dutch society and the challenges faced by European countries in managing migration in the 21st century.


B. Emphasising the importance of political will in addressing the complexities of migration

Addressing migration effectively requires political will—a commitment from governments to make difficult decisions, set limits, and cooperate with other countries. Political will encompasses the willingness to balance humanitarian needs, security concerns, and the economic impact of migration. It is a crucial factor in developing fair and sustainable migration policies.


C. The need for cohesive and well-coordinated policies to manage migration effectively

The resignation of Rutte and the subsequent debates highlight the need for cohesive and well-coordinated policies to manage migration effectively. It is essential to strike a balance that upholds human rights, ensures security, and promotes equitable burden-sharing among countries. This requires collaboration, shared responsibility, and a comprehensive approach that accounts for the complexities of migration.

Managing migration is not a task that quick or simplistic solutions can solve. It demands a holistic understanding of the humanitarian, security, and socio-economic dimensions involved. Political will plays a vital role in shaping policies that reflect compassion, fairness, and sustainability.

As European countries navigate the challenges posed by migration, it is crucial to remember the lessons from history, the importance of fostering an open and inclusive society, and the need for political will to drive effective migration management. By working together and developing cohesive strategies, countries can address migration challenges in a manner that upholds human dignity, protects security, and promotes harmonious coexistence.

The resignation of Mark Rutte and the issues surrounding migration underscores the complexity of this global phenomenon. Through the lens of political will, countries can rise to the challenge, develop comprehensive policies, and create a future where migration is managed in a way that respects the rights and well-being of all individuals involved.



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Sam Polkar

Research Fellow, Advocacy Unified Network

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Polkar, S. (2023). A Political Will Deficit on Migration: The Resignation of Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Advocacy Unified Network. https://doi.org/10.57939/QSVZ-NK66

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