Municipalities do want to accommodate asylum seekers, but locations do not comply

The Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) cannot handle the reception of asylum seekers. The shelter in Ter Apel is overcrowded and other municipalities are only taking over people very little.

A tour of several municipalities and from policy documents obtained via a Wob (Public Administration Act) shows that many municipalities do offer everything, but that they are not used for various reasons.

At the emergency reception for asylum seekers in Leeuwarden, it can be felt how much pressure the reception of refugees is under. Six hundred people live there in a large hall with no windows. Families with children have a 10 square meter loft at their disposal since November.

There is no fresh air and at night it is so noisy that children cannot sleep and then do it at school during the day. A father from Yemen is worried about his children, who have been staying here for months. โ€œThey are very stressed and often ill. My youngest son doesnt want to eat anymore and is losing weight. We want clarity about how long this will take.โ€ Other residents complain about the lack of medical care.

Residents filmed the conditions inside for us:

Aid organizations and a majority in the Leeuwarden City Council find the reception extremely worrying. And this while the city council offered the COA two years ago to realize a permanent reception location with around 450 places.

โ€œIts frustrating, because here everything is green. However, it is constantly stalling because the COA cannot find a suitable location in our city,โ€ says councilor Carlijn Niessink (ChristenUnie).

Mayor Sybrand van Haersma Buma (CDA) also acknowledges that his city does want to provide shelter for larger regular asylum reception. But the reality is unruly. โ€œWhat applies to us applies to all municipalities in Friesland. We want to, but apparently there are no suitable buildings available. The COA had a building in mind here and that was bought away by a much higher bidder.โ€

No suitable location

In the Netherlands, around forty thousand asylum seekers are in the reception. All spots are occupied and there are a few hundred new people joining each week. The flow is stagnating because around 13,000 people, who have a residence permit in the meantime, are still unable to go to a regular home.

In addition to the regular asylum seekers centers, there are now around 50 emergency locations in the Netherlands that are intended to provide a temporary solution. State Secretary Eric van der Burg (VVD) believes that municipalities should do more to find suitable locations for the reception of asylum seekers.

Regarding suitable locations, the COA states that โ€œit is possible that an option at first glance appears to be suitable for long-term, permanent asylum reception. But an empty location is not immediately a suitable location for the reception of asylum seekers.โ€

For occupancy, a building must meet numerous requirements, for example in the field of fire safety. โ€œThere are also requirements for showers, washrooms, toilets and cooking facilities,โ€ says the COA. โ€œWe are working hard to make locations suitable, but some locations require small or larger adjustments and are therefore not available immediately,โ€ says the COA spokesperson.

Clamp on all sides

The number of locations rose from 64 early 2021 to 109 at the end of 2021, and now the COA has 114 locations, almost doubling. But as long as there are no suitable locations for permanent reception, the COA is designated at dozens of emergency locations such as Leeuwarden.

In order to achieve more permanent reception, the Secretary of State is also considering forcing municipalities in the long run. A legal framework for this will first have to be established.

The mayor of Leeuwarden has nothing against it. โ€œI understand that the Secretary of State wants to force municipalities, but when it comes to Leeuwarden, I say: come on and show where we could realize that shelter. Its stuck on all sides,โ€ says Buma.