Tents not suitable for refugees in winter, ombudsman tells minister

The Heumensoord centre. Photo: Flip Franssen ANP/HH
The Heumensoord centre. Photo: Flip Franssen ANP/HH

The emergency refugee centre in Heumensoord in Gelderland is unsuitable for use in the winter months and proper accommodation must be found for the occupants as a matter of urgency, the national ombudsman and the Dutch human rights committee say.

The two organisations have written to junior justice minister Ankie Broekers-Knol urging her to come up with a permanent solution for the current residents – mainly from Afghanistan and whose number includes 450 children.

The accommodation in large marquees, where people have been living since they were evacuated from Kabul, is unsuitable for anything more than a couple of weeks, the agencies say.

The government may feel more responsible for the refugees because of their work for the Dutch but they are currently living in circumstances ‘which are worse than in a normal refugee centre’, the letter states.

While praising staff for doing their best, officials say there is, for example, a lack of privacy. The bedrooms have no ceilings and are separated by thin walls and  ‘every sound, from conversations to crying children, can be heard by everyone.’

This, combined with the lack of certainty about the future, is causing health problems such as stress, insomnia and depression among the refugees. ‘This also has an impact on their future integration into Dutch society,’ said ombudsman Reinier van Zutphen. ‘It is in everyone’s interest that the people who are allowed to stay here can start integrating quickly and in good health.’

The recent surge in refugee numbers, coupled with a shortage of ordinary housing for those who have been given residency rights, has led to overcrowding in the existing centres and the widespread use of temporary options, such as tents and sports halls.

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