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Council of Europe slams Netherlands over migrant reception

September 2, 2022

Europe's top human rights body, not connected to the EU, has criticized the Netherlands over the handling of migrants at the Ter Apel asylum center.

Hundreds of people sleeping outside the Ter Apel registration center before they were moved away
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has claimed the problem was due to a housing shortageImage: Ramon van Flymen/ANP/picture alliance

The Council of Europe has called for the Netherlands to address the failings in its reception of asylum seekers after 700 people were left camping outside a reception center in the town of Ter Apel.

The council published a letter from Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatovic to Dutch Migration Minister Eric van der Burg on Friday. The letter had been sent on August 26, and was published alongside the Dutch minister's response.

"The current situation of persons sleeping outside the centre also appears to fall short of even the minimum standards under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights," Mijatovic wrote.

Dutch authorities have since moved the migrants and refugees who had been sleeping rough, following a critical report that said the site was a health hazard.

The charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) also launched the first-ever deployment in the Netherlands after a 3-month-old baby died at the Ter Apel shelter.

What did the human rights commissioner say?

Mijatovic highlighted a series of concerns in her letter and questioned some of the justifications given by Dutch authorities.

"I am concerned about the stark differences in the treatment accorded to Ukrainians and to those of other nationalities," she wrote, adding that she was calling on the government to "prevent discriminatory treatment in access to reception and other services."

The human rights commissioner also expressed concerns over "delays in ensuring safe and dignified conditions" and the use of short-term facilities "for some of the most vulnerable persons."

She questioned the proposals put forward by the Netherlands to solve the crisis, including restrictions on family reunifications. "I stress that any further steps should be fully in line with the Netherlands' obligations under international refugee and human rights law."

Netherlands: Dramatic conditions in refugee camp

Mijatovic also questioned the excuses given by Dutch authorities that led to migrants and refugees left camping outside.

"I … note that the current situation appears to be less related to a sudden and unforeseen increase in arrivals, but rather exposes some more structural shortcomings," she said, pointing to "excessive downscaling of reception capacities" as well as a general focus among Council of Europe members on "reducing arrivals, deterrence and externalization."

How did the Netherlands respond?

In a letter dated September 1, Van der Burg laid out the measures taken by the Dutch government in response to the situation at Ter Apel.

"We will open a large emergency shelter (provided by the Ministry of Defence) in a nearby municipality as soon as possible, where people can stay pending the start of their identification and registration procedure at Ter Apel," he wrote.

He also wrote that a budget of €730 million ($730.74 million) has been agreed to set up additional reception centers as well as "housing for beneficiaries of international protection."

"We need to accelerate the asylum process and provide for a reception system that, while safeguarding human rights, is more responsive to the inevitable fluctuations in asylum applications," the minister added regarding long-term measures.

ab/wd (dpa, Reuters)