Reception of asylum seekers still not in order five years after refugee crisis

Five years ago, all municipalities received a distress call from then VVD State Secretary Dijkhoff. He asked them to make 750 more beds available that night for asylum seekers who might otherwise have had to sleep on the street.

In a weeks time, 4,000 asylum seekers arrived at the application centre in Ter Apel and there was an urgent shortage of reception places. Now far fewer asylum seekers are turning up, but the shortage of reception places has still not been solved.

In 2015, when the refugee crisis peaked, around 43,000 people applied for asylum in the Netherlands. The Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (Centraal Orgaan opvang Asielzoekers (COA)) was unable to keep up with the increase with sufficient places. The State Secretary urged municipalities to make gymnasiums, exhibition halls and empty offices available in a hurry.

In Zeist, the first emergency location opened the day after the call. Mayor Koos Janssen (CDA) remembers it well. I saw that e-mail come in at 15.00 hours. I immediately went to arrange the large sports hall here, he says. I thought: a letter like that has never been written before. We have to listen to it, for the sake of humanity

Fewer asylum seekers, but full asylum seekers centres

What is the current situation regarding the reception of asylum seekers? The figures are now different: there are now around 500 asylum applications per week. Yet the reception centres are full again. There are now some 27,000 asylum seekers and status holders in the asylum seekers centres.

This is due to the long waiting times at the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) for processing asylum applications. It is also difficult for residents with a residence permit to move on. Moreover, there is a slight increase in the number of asylum seekers; at least 5,000 extra places are now needed.

In the opinion of Sander Schaap van Vluchtelingenwerk, the full reception centres are the result of political choices. According to Schaap, politics wanted to create the impression that the crisis was managed. The IND was slimmed down, temporary contracts were not extended. COA closed asylum seekers centres, we are now seeing the consequences of that

Not changed either: municipalities and central government at odds

In addition, the Cabinet has great difficulty in finding municipalities that are prepared to accept asylum seekers again. For almost a year now, municipalities have been refusing to provide the 5,000 extra reception places requested by the Cabinet. The reception of asylum seekers who cause nuisance is particularly sensitive. This mainly concerns people who come from a safe country and have little chance of asylum.

Last week, the Cabinet reached out to the municipalities. On Monday it turned out that from now on so-called safe country nationals will be received separately from other asylum seekers at two locations after their arrival in the Netherlands: Ter Apel and Budel-Cranendonck.

Minister Ollongren of Home Affairs and Housing also informed municipalities that she allows experiments at ten locations with a maximum of 150 asylum seekers. Such smaller asylum seekers centres are a long cherished wish of municipalities. Because of the higher costs, Ollongren has so far not been in favour of them. However, the Minister and State Secretary Broekers-Knol (Aliens Affairs) do set the condition that municipalities arrange the requested 5,000 places.

Mayor Janssen is pleased that the Cabinet is going to allow small reception centres. If you consider what it has cost to quickly set up an emergency reception centre and other facilities here, and it has never been full, then small reception centres may well be much cheaper Moreover, according to him, those locations are also much easier to accept for society.

For the time being there is no quick solution. It is not yet known whether municipalities are prepared to realise these extra reception locations. Sander Schaap believes that it is also necessary for politicians to communicate about asylum seekers in a different way.

The State Secretary gives the impression that only 20% of the asylum seekers who arrive now have a chance of obtaining a residence permit. But that is a distorted picture, says Schaap. In recent years, the applications of people from safe countries in particular have been assessed. People from conflict zones have been waiting for more than a year for their applications to be assessed

The Ministry of Justice and Security is already taking into account the decrease in the number of asylum seekers coming to the Netherlands in 2022. This has also been incorporated into the budget.

Refugee work is critical. Schaap: The old waiting times have not yet been eliminated and a new round of austerity measures is already being announced. I fear that this will once again cause a build-up and you will soon have the same problem again