efe-epaBy Imane Rachidi The Hague

The prohibition of the use of burqas in public spaces, designed to target some 200 women who use the face-covering garments, came into force amid much controversy on Thursday in the Netherlands.

The law is aimed at those who wear Islamic garments such as the burqa (a veil that covers the entire face with a grid at eye level) and the niqab (which only exposes the eyes) but also to those who use a full-face helmet or balaclavas, which are quite common during low temperatures.

The partial prohibition - which does not include the street - affects hospitals, schools, transportation (trains, buses and trams) and public buildings such as town halls, police stations, ministries or some state-owned museums.

"I understand that it is a strange sight to see a woman walking around in a black niqab and that it can even scare children," Said Bouharrou, vice president of the National Council of Moroccan Mosques in the Netherlands, told Efe.

"We think this is symbolic politics and a solution to a problem that we don’t have in the Netherlands."

"The consequences of the burqa-ban by a government will create more damage than it will give solutions and social cohesion in society," he lamented.

In the multicultural neighborhood of Schilderswijk, in The Hague, a group of five Muslim women - who refuse to share their names - declare themselves against the use of the Islamic garment that hides the face, but they told Efe they condemned the ban because they considered it to have "a racist base that targets the Muslim community."

The Dutch women's movement "Get away from my niqab" fear that this law could empower people to enforce the law of their own accord.

Transport drivers are also concerned civilians may take matters into their own hands generating more security issues than existed before the ban came into force.

"Maybe because of the law, people might test it, opponents or supporters from both sides we are expecting people to test the new regulation in practice, so maybe there will be some more issues than before," Arjan Vaandrager, from Royal Dutch Transport, who spoke on behalf of the large public transport companies in the Netherlands to Efe.

"And this was our point, we don't have any safety issues now but because of the new law, intended to create more safety or security, we expect maybe even less security," Vaandrager added.

"If the Police do not (demand compliance), neither do hospitals. Citizens could do it themselves," Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing Party for Freedom and promoter of this ban thirteen years ago, warned.

On the other hand, some consider people have the right to cover their faces.

DENK, a party founded by two Turkish-Dutch members of the House of Representatives which holds seats in the city halls of The Hague and Rotterdam, has called for resistance to the new law and has offered to pay the fines of affected women.

"It is about the constitutional rights and freedoms that we all must respect," spokesman Cemil Yilmaz said.

"We are concerned not only with the freedom of religion but also with the negative effects such as stigmatization, polarization and isolation that accompany the symbolic policy of this legislation," Yilmaz added.

Both Liberals and Democrats in the governing coalition warned that any rebellion jeopardizes compliance with the law and urged the police to make this ban one of their priorities.

Following in the footsteps of Denmark, France, Belgium and even Muslim countries such as Tunisia, the Dutch Senate ratified this ban in June last year, after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2014 that such a law does not violate religious freedoms. EFE-EPA

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