Nieuws, 17 augustus 2022

The Dutch Council for Refugees sues Dutch government over inhumane reception conditions

The Dutch Council for Refugees (DCR) has filed a case against the government and the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (\COA) for the inhumane and wretched reception conditions of asylum seekers. DCR demands that the government and COA provide reception facilities that meet the minimum standards by 1 October 2022. DCR hopes a court ruling will help break the administrative deadlock between the central government and the municipalities. The situation has led to reception facilities falling below the minimum humanitarian standards for almost a year. The hearing will be held at the District Court of The Hague on 15 September.

Harmful conditions at reception facilities

DCR announced on 6 July that it would go to court if the reception facilities did not improve quickly. Since September last year, thousands of refugees have been living – often for long periods of time - in emergency reception locations that are unsuitable. These include locations such as tents, sports and event halls. They lack basic conditions such as privacy, clean sanitary facilities, proper beds, sufficient and decent food and protection against weather conditions. The Health Care Inspectorate has concluded that this form of shelter is harmful to the physical and mental health of residents. It can no longer be called a temporary situation. It has become the new norm, and that is unacceptable.

The demands

The Dutch Council for Refugees is demanding that the reception facilities for all asylum seekers and status holders meet the minimum requirements, as determined by EU law, by 1 October 2022. Concretely, this means the following 

  • access to drinking water day and night;
  • access to necessary healthcare;
  • some degree of privacy like a private bedroom for families or groups of up to six;  
  • access to showers and toilets;
  • sufficient adequate meals;
  • access to education and play facilities for children.

DCR also demands that all asylum seekers receive a medical check before being transferred to an emergency shelter. Recently, DCR has found that several pregnant women and sick asylum seekers where hosted in tents and sports halls. They should not be living in these emergency shelters.

Administrative deadlock

It is clear to DCR that this reception crisis has been caused by political choices and could have been prevented. In contrast to previous reception crises, there is no question of force majeure this time. The number of asylum applications has been relatively low and stable in recent years.

Due to cutbacks in the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) and the closing of asylum seekers' centres, the asylum system has been in a permanent state of crisis for years. As the national government is to blame for the crisis, many municipalities are reluctant to provide additional shelter locations. This has created an administrative deadlock: there are enough locations to accommodate the current numbers of asylum seekers, but many municipalities refuse to cooperate.

Unequal treatment

Because municipalities are not formally responsible for the reception of asylum seekers, they can ignore requests from the government. DCR points out that State Secretary for asylum and migration does have  sufficient means to make sure municipalities are responsible. Those means were made available to refugees from Ukraine. And while refugees from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen slept on the floor, thousands of beds for Ukrainians stood empty for months. The contrast between reception conditions for Ukrainians and refugees from other countries is often stark and unjustifiable.

What can be done?

The need is so great that no means should be left untouched. Still, there are solutions not being used. State Secretary Van der Burg could break the administrative deadlock by temporarily making municipalities responsible in the short term. This is possible by adopting an emergency law or state emergency law. Buildings managed by the national government could also be assigned and converted to reception centres.

And recognized refugees – who are still living in reception centres for lack of available housing – could temporarily be housed in hotels, recreational homes or holiday parks and options could be expanded for asylum seekers to stay with family temporarily.

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