The prosecution service has decided not to bring charges over the death of a three-month old baby in a crowded dormitory at the refugee reception centre in Ter Apel last August.
The Dutch forensic institute NFI said it was unable to determine the cause of death of the infant, a boy called Sem, or whether the conditions in the converted gym were responsible.
The health and youth care inspectorate (IGJ) described the conditions as “unhealthy for a mother with young children”.
It ordered the refugee accommodation service COA to stop accommodating vulnerable people, but the agency said it could not guarantee it would be able to comply.
“It is questionable whether we can manage to do this adequately at the moment,” a spokesman said.
The inspectorate’s report said at least 80 people were sleeping in the gym – which was supposed to accommodate a maximum of 50 – on August 23, the night before Sem died.
People slept on mattresses on the ground in the absence of beds, sleeping bags or cots. The temperature was 31 degrees, the risk of diseases spreading was high and some people were smoking.
The conditions were condemned at the time as “inhumane” by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders after the Dutch government asked it to intervene.
Some people slept on the verge outside the centre without access to medicines or sanitation for up to a week. Judith Sargentini, director of the charity’s Dutch branch AzG Nederland, warned that the situation risked creating “serious medical emergencies.”
Sem’s mother, from Eritrea, had secondary refugee status at the time after a family member had been granted asylum. She was living in Tilburg, where Sem was born.
Her husband was in a refugee camp in Africa, but he could only join her in the Netherlands if she first claimed asylum for herself.
Fears of repeat
The rules required her to travel to the refugee reception centre in Ter Apel, Groningen, with her children for pre-registration, which included providing biometric information.
Officials advised her to wait because of the overcrowding problems in August, but she was determined to start the procedure. Her other son, aged two, spent the night on a mattress with an unknown woman.
“The fact remains that it is tragic that a child has died in these circumstances,” the IGJ report said.
There are fears that the problem could flare up again in the coming months, as the government is anticipating up to 70,000 asylum seekers this year. Asylum minister Eric van der Burg has struggled to win political support for his plans to disperse refugees around the country.
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