Refugee children in NL are being seriously damaged: aid groups

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

Children living in refugee centres for families whose claims have been rejected are being seriously damaged by the poor living conditions, according to new research by aid group Defence for Children.

In addition local authorities are not meeting their obligation to provide the children with social workers to help them come to terms with their situation, the report said. June 20 is World Refugee Day.

The charity wants the current form of accommodation for families who face deportation to be scrapped. Families are often forced to live in a small space, sometimes sharing it with other people, Defence for Children said. They have to move constantly, while dealing with the threat of deportation and hopelessness about their situation.

Broadcaster NOS spoke to 16-year-old Sara from Iraq, who shares a 20 square metre room with her two sisters, grandmother and parents. The kitchen and bathroom are shared with other people in the refugee centre. 

Sara, who has lived in the Netherlands for 10 years, is currently studying at a trade school and wants to become a dentist but will have to stop school when she turns 18. The over-18s who are scheduled for deportation are not allowed to study. 

“I used to make friends, but not anymore,” she told the broadcaster. “It always ends with having to move.” The family has been moved 17 times. 

“These children are losing their trust in others and the future through the constant moving,” said doctor Petra de Jong who works with refugee families in Katwijk. “They live in social isolation and survive on automatic pilot.” 

Refugee settlement agency COA said it recognized much in the report and described the accommodation for families who face deportation as “far from ideal”. 

Emergency housing

Meanwhile, the Red Cross, Dokters van de Wereld and aid group Pharos have also sounded the alarm about the physical and mental health of asylum seekers who are living in emergency accommodation. 

Some 7000 people are currently being put up in converted sports halls and other buildings with little privacy and poor sanitary facilities, where disease spreads easily, the aid agencies said. 

In May, four government inspectorates warned about the safety and well-being of children living in the country’s refugee centres. 

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