Asylum policy in the Netherlands violates national and international law

Photo Credits: ANP

There is an important monastery , and become known for its initial reception center for asylum seekers. More precisely: due to the intolerable conditions that have prevailed there for months. Again and again people had to spend the night outside in front of an asylum camp in The Dutch town Ter Apel, with a population of 10,000, located directly on the border with Germany. The Red Cross set up a makeshift tent camp and called the conditions “inhuman”. A court in The Hague ruled that the state and its asylum authorities did not meet European standards when it came to accommodating and caring for the refugees.

In Ter Apel and other provisional centers, there are already 17,000 people seeking protection, because they cannot move on to other communities after they have registered. The municipalities simply offer too few admission places. In July, the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Eric van der Burg, asked the local authorities to accommodate at least 1,700 unaccompanied minors by the end of the year. Four months later, just one hundred places have been registered. Van der Burg had long pressured that he would no longer put up with the lack of cooperation from around two-thirds of the 344 municipalities. But he faced a lot of opposition, especially from local politicians in his own party, the right-wing liberal VVD. Two weeks ago, however, the faction turned around and made an unpopular decision: the state wants to oblige the municipalities to accept asylum seekers by law.

Mark Rutte, Prime Minister and party leader, had to talk to his deputies for three hours in order to change course. They criticized the government for merely treating the symptoms instead of tackling the causes: the sharp increase in the influx of irregular migrants. Rutte promised he would work on it. One cannot continue with such high numbers of admissions, he said after the meeting. The other objection concerned the compulsive character. MPs warned that this would further weaken the support for welcoming migrants. The government now wants to counter this with an incentive system, as the draft law shows.

In February, the cabinet is to make a forecast of how many accommodation places will be needed in the next two years. The needs are allocated to the regions in proportion to the population, together with an “indicative” list of what this means for each municipality. The municipalities then have three months to voluntarily offer additional places, at least 100. The reward is a bonus of 2,500 euros per place, in addition to the usual flat-rate fee. This bonus can be used freely. If the need is not covered in this way, the compulsory distribution will take effect from May. Then the regions have to meet their requirements. Van der Burg has the last word. If the places are not evenly distributed, the Secretary of State can order a quota for each individual municipality by September.

The government estimates that 55,000 places will be needed next year. Since only 15,000 are available so far, a gap of 40,000 must be filled. At least – because, as van der Burg explained to Parliament, the government is expecting a further increase in the influx. The future does not look rosy, warned the State Secretary. There are quite a few in the VVD who want to curb the influx by stopping admissions. However, the government has promised that it will comply with international law. The second largest government partner, the left-liberal D66, insists on this. There isn’t a lot of leeway there – but there is a striking attraction factor.

Because nowhere in Europe is the chance of getting a protection status as high as in the Netherlands. In the first half of the year, 85 percent of all initial applications were approved, far more than in Germany (62 percent), Belgium (43 percent), Austria (53 percent) and France (26 percent). The recognition rate has been increasing for four years, and in 2020 more applications were approved than rejected for the first time. In the same period, the proportion of asylum seekers from Syria, Afghanistan, Turkey and Yemen who have a relatively high chance of protection increased. However, it was the same in Germany and Austria – despite this, the recognition rates are lower there.

The Hague is still puzzling over the reasons for this phenomenon. It is probably related to the fact that the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is more skeptical about the human rights and security situation in the home countries of those seeking protection than their colleagues elsewhere. On this basis, the asylum authorities and courts decide whether there is a sufficient ground for protection. For example, Turkey and Algeria are generally classified as unsafe countries.

The government could certainly turn these screws without violating international law. There is a margin of appreciation. For example, Denmark sends back Syrians coming from Damascus. However, the pressure on the asylum system will not abate any time soon. Irregular border crossings are on the rise across Europe: in the first nine months of this year there were 230,000, 70 percent more than in the same period last year. The reason: when the pandemic subsided, the travel restrictions also disappeared.

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