Mayors slam ministers over ‘critical’ conditions at Ter Apel

Temporary waiting areas at Ter Apel refugee centre last year. Photo: Depositphotos

Civic leaders in Groningen have accused cabinet ministers of creating a “critical” situation at the asylum reception centre in Ter Apel by not taking steps to address the overcrowding problem.

Nine mayors, as well as the king’s commissioner for the province, René Paas, wrote to caretaker justice minister Dilan Yesilgöz and junior minister for asylum, Eric van der Burg, accusing the cabinet of “wilfully” allowing the crisis to develop.

Ter Apel has exceeded its maximum capacity of 2,000 residents for several months, with refugees living in conditions that have been branded unsafe and unhygienic.

Last month justice department inspectors said the building was not compliant with fire safety standards, meaning it could not be evacuated safely, while the number of violent incidents was increasing.

“We find it incomprehensible and unacceptable that this can happen in this country,” the leaders wrote in a letter cited by Nieuwsuur.

They also criticised the opposition to the so-called “spreading law”, introduced by Van der Burg to allow him to relieve pressure on Ter Apel by distributing refugees around the country, for exacerbating the bottleneck.

Last month Yesilgöz, in her capacity as VVD party leader, steered a motion through parliament calling for the law to be put on hold until talks to form a new government made up of right-wing parties had concluded.

The motion was supported by all four parties taking part in the negotiation, but is not binding on the Senate, which is due to debate the measure next week.

While a handful of municipalities had “taken their responsibility” to accommodate more asylum seekers, it was not enough to reduce pressure on Ter Apel. The leaders said the outgoing government, MPs and the “majority of municipalities” were “willingly and knowingly” maintaining an untenable situation.

On Wednesday Westerwolde council is going to court to seek an injunction against the asylum accommodation agency COA that would enforce the capacity limit of 2,000 at Ter Apel.

Velema said the “situation in recent months” had forced him to take legal action. “We have reached the point where the situation is no longer acceptable and judicial intervention is needed.”

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