Child refugees ‘grey with exhaustion’, ombudswoman tells minister

Refugees at Ter Apel
Refugees at Ter Apel asylum centre.Photo: Peter de Ruiter/ UNHCR Brussel
Refugees at Ter Apel
Refugees at Ter Apel asylum centre.Photo: Peter de Ruiter/ UNHCR Brussel

The situation facing child refugees who have arrived in the Netherlands without parents or other family members has worsened over the past few months, children’s ombudswoman Margrite Kalverboer has told junior justice minister Eric van der Burg in a briefing.

Dozens of children have spent several days in a waiting room at the Ter Apel reception centre, Kalverboer said in the briefing, which has been seen by local broadcaster RTV Noord.

Some 300 children were at the centre during her visit last week. Ter Apel only has the facilities to look after 55.

‘They wait all day, sitting on a plastic chair and in the evening they sleep in a waiting room, on the floor or on a chair,’ the ombudswoman said. ‘They are given a sheet and something to act as a blanket,’ she said.

They are ‘grey with exhaustion’, they ‘clean their teeth in the toilets using their fingers and there is no shower,’ she told the minister.

The ombudswoman said the children are also worried about their personal safety. In one case, two girls were sleeping in the same room as 30 boys without adequate supervision, she said.

The children are required to wait in Ter Apel until other accommodation can be found for them.


Last week, Van der Burg made yet another urgent appeal to local councils to come up with beds for refugees – this time for 1,700 places for youngsters who have travelled to the Netherlands without their parents.

There is a ‘real’ likelihood that young asylum seekers will end up sleeping outdoors or drift from place to place unless more housing is found, the minister said. ‘I would ask you all, as a matter of real urgency, to prevent us reaching an absolute low point,’ Van der Burg said in his letter to all 345 local council chiefs.

Between 100 and 150 youngsters under the age of 18 are arriving in the Netherlands every week, the minister said.

The minister’s appeal came several hours after judges in The Hague ruled that the Dutch state and refugee settlement agency COA had to ensure all its accommodation met international standards.

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