The mayor of Westerwolde, which is home to the refugee reception centre in Ter Apel, has been awarded this year’s Machiavelli prize for outstanding communication.
Jaap Velema was praised for speaking up for both local residents around the Groningen village and asylum seekers who have had to endure conditions that have been fiercely criticised by government inspectors and the Red Cross.
Two weeks ago Velema went to court seeking an injunction that would force the refugee accommodation agency COA to pay a €25,000 fine for every day that the number of people staying in Ter Apel exceeded the agreed limit of 2,000.
The jury awarding the prize said Velema had demonstrated “sharp and clear” communication on behalf of everyone living in the municipality that was “not polarising despite the great sensitivity of the subject matter”.
“The way in which the community in Ter Apel has dealt with this for years is an example to many other municipalities, including some much larger ones.”
Velema had to check his emotions during the injunction hearing last week as he described how the cramped, unhygienic conditions in Ter Apel threatened the safety of the asylum seekers living there.
“Thart’s probably where the most serious incidents take place,” he said. “And that affects not just the safety of the COA staff … but the safety of the asylum seekers themselves.
“My emotions come from a sense of powerlessness, because even though it’s not my concern, I do feel responsible,” he said.
The district court in Groningen is due to deliver its ruling in the case on Tuesday.
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