The Dutch state must take immediate action to improve the living conditions of asylum seekers in emergency accommodation rather than wait until the outcome of November’s formal appeal, judges in The Hague said on Monday afternoon.
The ruling means that heavily pregnant women, families with children and people with serious illnesses must be moved from the crisis accommodation where they are currently living, such as sports halls, into more regular housing.
In addition, the government must improve the situation facing minors who travelled to the Netherlands without parents. Some 300 minors are living at the Ter Apel reception centre in Groningen, which only has space for 55.
Last week, junior justice minister Eric van der Burg made an urgent appeal to local councils to find small-scale locations where unaccompanied minors can live but just one house has so far been offered.
The state had called for a delay in implementation, pending the outcome of the appeal, saying that the minister is ‘not a magician’. The state and refugee settlement agency did not want to be put in a position where they could not comply with a court ruling, lawyers said.
However, the court ruled that the interests of the asylum seekers were more important than that of the state. ‘It will not be a wasted effort if the state already starts implementing the measures,’ the court said.
The case was brought by refugee aid agency Vluchtelingenwerk. The agency is demanding officials bring accommodation up to European standards, claiming that the care of refugees in the Netherlands ‘has dropped below the humanitarian minimum’.
Nearly 30,000 refugees, including children, are currently living in emergency accommodation such as sports halls, ferries, converted offices and holiday parks.
Research published by RTL Nieuws last month showed that more than half of Dutch local councils have not provided any housing for refugees in the past 10 years. Richer council areas and Bible belt towns and villages are far less likely to have housed a refugee centre, the figures, from refugee settlement agency COA, show.
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