The red lights could go out all over Amsterdam

Window shopping: Any crackdown on illegal foreign prostitutes would not be welcomed by local businesses, which fear a fall in the sex district's allure
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The Independent Online
ABI DARUVALLA

Amsterdam

If a strike of Amsterdam prostitutes goes ahead next month it won't be only the red lights which will go out in the city's famous sex district.

The brothel operators behind the sex strike are angry over a council crackdown on illegal immigrants working as whores.

Local businesses are also afraid such a move would spell the end of the allure of the area and have pledged support for the "lights out" protest.

The crackdown on illegal foreign prostitutes is part of the city' s policy to regulate brothels in advance of new legislation to decriminalise the sex industry. As from 1 January, brothel operators in Amsterdam will have to apply for a "tolerance licence" allowing them to ply their trade, as long as certain health and safety regulations are met.

While the brothel operators are not against this policy, they are furious about what they see as a totally impossible demand which calls on them to ensure that no illegal immigrants are employed as prostitutes. "About 75 per cent of the city's 1,300 window prostitutes are foreign girls who are in the Netherlands illegally," said a spokesman for SOR, representing the brothel operators.

There has been a flood of prostitutes into Amsterdam over the last few years, mainly from South America and, more recently, from Eastern Europe.

SOR says: "This has built up over the last decade and they can't expect us to throw these women out onto the street just like that.

" The whole red light district would collapse - which is why other local businesses like local cafes are prepared to join our protest action and turn off their lights."

But Amsterdam council is adamant that the brothel operators are responsible for stamping out illegal employees: "The fact that they don't know how to handle the problem is their problem, not ours. Illegal is illegal and we can't make an exception for prostitutes," a council spokesman said.

But he stressed that the authorities are not planning to hunt out illegal immigrants working as prostitutes. The council is, however, determined to ensure all the conditions required for "tolerance permits" are met.

SOR insists that it does not want preferential treatment but a more realistic approach to the problem, and time to "clean up our act".

They warn too that the council's tough stance will only succeed in forcing the illegal foreign prostitutes further into the back streets and criminal circles. What SOR would like to see is a temporary amnesty for these women, allowing them to work for the industry for a year.

Turning a blind eye to the city's flourishing sex industry is a long standing tradition in Amsterdam. However, the huge influx of illegal foreign women on the circuit has caused concern on account of links with organised crime. Accepting the existence of the oldest profession in the world is one thing, but giving brothels an official stamp of approval has been a difficult step - even for the progressive Dutch.

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