VluchtelingenWerk takes legal action against the government and COA over shelter crisis

Shelter conditions are sinking through the humanitarian floor. And every day we find ourselves wondering whether asylum seekers in the Netherlands will have to sleep on the streets. If the government fails to ensure that the reception of asylum seekers meets the legal minimum standards by August 1, VluchtelingenWerk will take the matter to court.

Harmful conditions at reception sites

Children unable to attend school, a lack of healthy food, dirty toilets, lack of access to care, sleeping in a chair or on the floor: the way refugees are currently being treated sinks through the humanitarian floor and is harmful. Every day, men, women and small children wait in Ter Apel for a bus to take them from one crisis emergency shelter to another. In all weathers, often without a decent meal. Recently, the Inspectorate for Health and Youth Care also sounded the alarm about the risks of physical and mental harm due to the conditions in the crisis emergency shelter. These sites are not temporary. After nine months of emergency shelter, thousands of asylum seekers still see no prospects for improvement. 

'The shelter is not temporarily substandard: the problem has become structural. We are not going to accept this as the new normal.'
Frank Candel, 
Director of VluchtelingenWerk Netherlands

Breaking the deadlock

There is no shortage of solutions to the lack of shelter places, but a deadlock between the national government and municipal authorities stops things from getting done. There is a lack of clarity about who is responsible for what, which is why the current shelter crisis is primarily an administrative crisis. The government is not empowered to designate suitable reception sites. As a result, we are unable to find sufficient reception areas. A court ruling could help break that deadlock. 

Candel: 'The last agreement between the government and municipalities was described by municipalities themselves as 'fragile.' This does not inspire confidence. A law allowing the government to designate suitable shelter sites could be that breakthrough, but it could not take effect until 2023 at the soonest. Meanwhile, asylum seekers face endin up on the streets every night. We are not going to wait for this, time has run out.'

'Sad that it's necessary'

This is not the first time refugees have lived in makeshift emergency shelters. But, unlike previous reception crises, the cause this time is not an exceptionally high number of asylum applications. Recently, the Advisory Committee on Aliens Affairs and the Council for Public Administration concluded that the government itself had caused and maintained this reception crisis by making cutbacks and closing down asylum seekers' centers.

Candel: 'Important warnings and advice have been ignored for years. This crisis was preventable and is therefore imputable. People fleeing war or persecution must be given decent accommodation. And the immigration staff in the reception centers who work extremely hard to make the best of it must be enabled to do their jobs. It is sad that we now have to take legal action to enforce this. We do this with pain in our hearts.'

In the liability notice, VluchtelingenWerk demands that refugees and asylum seekers be accommodated according to minimum standards again by August 1.