The Netherlands urgently needs more large locations where refugees can live for longer periods, refugee settlement agency COA has warned.
The agency says it is ‘reaching its limits in the performance of its statutory duty’ and that the situation is becoming ‘irresponsible’.
The organisation has been warning for months that the Netherlands does not have enough places for refugees to live while their applications are being processed, and has already issued several calls for action about the situation in Ter Apel, where initial assessments are made.
While cities such as Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Nijmegen, Oss and Alkmaar have come forward to help, the pressure at Ter Apel continues to mount, the COA said.
Earlier this month Groningen mayor Koen Schuilingen said the location is the Netherlands’ own Lampedusa, a reference to the Italian island where thousands of refugees lived in terrible conditions.
‘There is a penetrating sewer smell in the marquees… there is a risk of infection, no privacy and it is a fire hazard,’ he said.
The children’s ombudsman has also sounded the alarm about the situation facing young refugees arriving in Ter Apel alone. ‘There is no education, no activities, no help, nothing,’ she said. ‘They get food and that is it. Staff told me that they often don’t bother to wake the children up in the morning because there is nothing for them to do.’
Refugees arriving in Ter Apel are supposed to stay there for a maximum of six days while their applications are registered, but this can run into weeks and months because of the shortage of beds in regular refugee centres.
COA currently runs 107 locations, of which 37 are temporary. In total they have almost 40,000 beds. However, some 13,000 people who have been granted refugee status are still living in COA centres because of the shortage of regular housing for them to move into.
Refugee agencies say the COA’s emergency call is very painful, given that the crisis had been predicted. ‘This disaster in the making is the result of the collective failure of every level of government,’ Vluchtelingenwerk said.
Trouw reported on Tuesday that the government has consistently underestimated the number of refugees who will come to the Netherlands and that has only added to the problems in finding places for them to live.
They also underestimate how many close family members will apply to join their relatives in the Netherlands, even though this can be easily calculated, Vluchtelingenwerk told the paper.
The cabinet is working on legislation which will allow it to force local councils to accept refugees and find places for them to live until they can move into regular housing.
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