Finally an agreement on ‘spreading law’, but time is already up
Five questions about the ‘spreading law’:
1. Why is this law necessary?
In the past year, we have seen the consequences of the shortage of reception places and the problems with housing refugees in reception centre Ter Apel and in the emergency reception locations. Everyone agreed we need more humane reception locations, but the location of those centres remained a matter of debate.
Proposing suitable locations to receive asylum seekers is not a formal task of a municipality; instead, it is done voluntarily. In the past year, it became clear that this non-commitment does not work: municipalities that were asked to put forward suitable locations did not do so. Because not enough municipalities responded to this call, thousands of asylum seekers ended up in temporary emergency locations that are often unsuitable for habitation. Another consequence is that reception is not distributed fairly across the country. That is why there has been a longstanding demand for a law that would put an end to non-commitment and distribute shelters fairly among all municipalities.
2. Will municipalities soon be forced to receive asylum seekers?
If municipalities cannot come to an agreement, the new law will allow the State to designate suitable reception locations itself. Then a municipality will indeed be obliged to receive asylum seekers. But the central government only does that as a last resort.
The new law should alleviate many of the municipalities’ concerns and make it possible to propose smaller-scale locations. The government also will reward municipalities that cooperate voluntarily.
3. Is the law final?
Not yet. A bill has been presented, and all parties involved can comment on it. Their advice will be included in a final bill that will first go to the Council of State for advice. Then the House of Representatives and Senate will vote on it.
Several important points will likely be amended because there is a lot of criticism of the current bill. The bill is very complex, so it is difficult to predict what the effect will be. There is also fear that municipalities will wait until the new law takes effect before they offer reception places, and those places are already badly needed now. Furthermore, it is not clear how many places will be needed in the future and how large the ‘buffer’ will be to prevent new reception crises.
4. Has the reception crisis now been resolved?
No. Unfortunately, the current bill only seems to solve the political problem for the time being. In fact, it is an answer to the crisis of a year ago. Many thousands of asylum seekers are now staying in locations that should close as soon as possible. This law will not change that soon enough; that could take many months. The Council for Refugees sees the ‘spreading law’ as an opportunity for a breakthrough to prevent future reception crises, but today’s crisis requires more.
5. What should be done now?
We need an interim solution because it will be a long time before refugees start to notice the effects of this law. We don’t have that time. The way in which thousands of people are cared for in (crisis) emergency shelters is harmful to their physical and mental health, so we desperately need better reception locations now. State Secretary Van der Burg can ensure this in various ways: he can invoke state emergency law, use hotels, holiday parks and other temporary housing facilities, or grant a permit for the reception of asylum seekers in State premises. If all goes well, the new law will make such temporary solutions superfluous.
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What does the Council for Refugees think of this proposed law?
The Council for Refugees has long been advocating for a fair distribution of reception centres for asylum seekers and a better way of housing recognised refugees. Unfortunately, this bill will not achieve that goal. However, it could be an important instrument to ensure that there are structurally sufficient reception places that offer a decent standard of living. The bill offers opportunities to, for example, finally organise reception on a small scale. That is better for refugees and better for society. It also offers opportunities for more peace in the heated debate about the reception of asylum seekers, and opportunities for more calmness for all organisations involved.
Unfortunately, the current setup does not yet meet the conditions for capitalising on those opportunities. In a letter to parliament, we gave an extensive response and made concrete suggestions for changes.