Senators have passed the controversial “spreading law” that gives junior asylum minister Eric van der Burg the power to overrule councils that refuse to accommodate asylum seekers.
The law was backed by 43 of the 75 members of the upper house, after the VVD group unanimously came out in support last week.
VVD senator Marian Kaljouw said that while the right-wing Liberal party had reservations about the law, the bottleneck in the asylum system needed to be resolved.
The vote was controversial because VVD leader and caretaker justice minister Dilan Yesilgöz had called in the lower house for the Senate not to debate the law while talks to form a new government with three other right-wing parties, including Geert Wilders’s PVV, were ongoing.
Wilders described the VVD senate group’s decision as a “serious problem” and the issue is likely to complicate the negotiations to form a new cabinet. The PVV and the farmers’ party BBB, which is also participating in the talks, voted against.
Van der Burg, who is also a VVD minister, argued last week that the law was the only way to ensure a fair distribution of refugees around the country and avoid the need for emergency measures.
He has stressed that the measures will only be used as a last resort and councils who have to provide shelter for asylum seekers will be compensated by the government.
But a survey by RTL last week found that nearly half the 342 Dutch municipalities had provided no accommodation in the last 12 years.
Van der Burg played down any suggestion that passing the law would be a personal triumph, given his efforts to steer it through both houses. “I know how sensitive this is in my own team, among other places,” he said.
The need to resolve the problems in the refugee accommodation system have been made even more pressing after judges in Groningen gave the settlement agency COA a four-week deadline to bring down the number of people living at the reception centre in Ter Apel to 2,000.
The case was brought by the mayor of Westerwolde, Jaap Velema, who said overcrowding at Ter Apel in the last 18 months had led to unsafe conditions for both refugees and local residents.
The “spreading law” is intended to ensure that enough places are available for refugees to be moved to once they have submitted their application for asylum at Ter Apel. Around 32,000 people are currently living in temporary shelters.
But some local authorities have already signalled they will do everything possible to avoid implementing it. Members of Westland council, which is provisionally earmarked to take in more than 700 asylum seekers, told AD.nl a majority of councillors opposed the plan.
“What’s not clear about the recent election result?” said Remmert Keijzer of local party GemeenteBelang Westland. “The people don’t want this. But thanks to the VVD our democracy has become a dictatorship.”
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