Asylum accommodation agency COA has transferred 150 refugees to a sports hall in Apeldoorn in an attempt to ease the chronic overcrowding at its reception centre in Ter Apel.
Despite the emergency measure, around 700 people spent Thursday night outside the gates of the facility in conditions described by Médicins sans Frontières as ‘inhumane’.
MSF, which usually provides medical support in developing countries, is giving assistance in the Netherlands for the first time ever to hundreds of refugees living under makeshift awnings on the grass outside the entrance.
Workers said they had found pregnant women and people with chronic illnesses among the crowd. One man who had suffered a heart attack and another who had no insulin to treat his diabetes were taken to hospital on Thursday.
Others have developed skin conditions after not washing for a week, while the filthy toilets and lack of showers were described as a health hazard. Investigations are also ongoing into the death of a three month-old baby who was sleeping in a gym inside the campus.
Local authorities ordered tents to be removed from the area on Wednesday after reports that they were being used to store weapons and illegal substances, while tent pegs were allegedly thrown in fights.
The COA said the 150 refugees would be given shelter in two sports centres Apeldoorn for a maximum of four nights before being moved on to Doetinchem, local newspaper De Stentor reported.
One local resident, named as Huib, said people in the area were informed on Thursday afternoon about the arrival of the refugees.
‘It’s no surprise given the situation in Ter Apel where they’re coming from. Everyone’s seen those inhumane images. And they’re only here for a few nights.’
Local council association VNG said it hoped to reach an agreement on Friday to provide extra emergency accommodation, but the government would need to spend hundreds of millions of euros to cover the costs.
The mayor of Tilburg, Theo Weterings, told Nieuwsuur: ‘There is a real need for all parties to find a solution. I’m assuming the cabinet will have a good deal on the table tomorrow that we can agree on. An essential package of measures that we need to see now.’
The issue was complicated further when the owner of a hotel in Tubbergen that the government bought to accommodate 300 refugees, bypassing the local council, said she wanted to withdraw from the sale.
The COA said it would seek a court injunction to force through the sale, which sparked protests in the local community from people who said their voices were being ignored. ‘The huge pressure on the COA’s capacity means every place counts,’ said a spokesman.
In Ter Apel itself, around 500 people including local residents staged a protest march calling for the accommodation centre to be closed.
Protesters carried banners with slogans including ‘We want Ter Apel back!’, ‘We’ve had more than enough of these problems’ and ‘Genuine refugees fine, troublemakers out.’ Others carried inverted Dutch flags familiar in an echo of the recent famers’ protests.
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