Record numbers of unaccompanied child refugees arrived in the Netherlands last year, according to figures released by the immigration service IND.
The total number of children arriving alone almost doubled from 2,191 in 2021 to 4,207 last year, partly as a result of the abolition of coronavirus restrictions on travel.
The IND said it believed some families were sending children ahead because they have stronger rights as refugees than adults, so their parents can join them later under family reunion rules.
Asylum minister Eric van der Burg tried last autumn to suspend family reunions in order to relieve the strain on the refugee accommodation system, but was forced to abandon the measure when the Council of State ruled that it breached domestic and European law.
Under-18s are exempt from the Dublin regulation that requires people to claim asylum in the first EU country they arrive in.
Jasper Hoogendoorn, head of asylum, accommodation and repatriation at the justice ministry, told a parliamentary committee last week: ‘I don’t have any scientific evidence, but my impression is that the fact that we’ve afforded children more rights in the last 10 years has resulted in children being sent on ahead.
‘By giving more guarantees to unaccompanied minors, we run the risk of making it more attractive for parents in countries like Syria to send their children on ahead. I’m not calling for those rights to be revoked, but we should be aware of the risk.’
The number of first asylum claims by unaccompanied children increased most for refugees from Somalia, whose numbers grew by 88% last year, followed by Afghanistan (42%), Syria (31%) and Yemen (24%).
Amnesty for children
Speeding up the asylum procedure for minors was one of the motivations for the cabinet to agree an amnesty in 2019 for more than 500 children who had been living in the country as asylum seekers for at least five years.
But youth organisation Defence for Children said nothing had been put in place for under-18s who did not meet the terms of the amnesty or those who arrived in the country in the last four years, leaving dozens of child refugees in limbo.
‘For them the sword of Damocles is hanging over their heads every day,’ Martin Vegter of Defence for Children told Nieuwsuur in February.
Van der Burg told parliament recently that more than 200 children were registered with the refugee accommodation agency COA, but the true number is believed to be much higher because many are living in the country illegally.
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