Safety situation at Ter Apel refugee centre is “very serious”

The Ter Apel centre last month. Photo:

Staff and asylum seekers at the Ter Apel reception centre face “unacceptable risks of becoming a victim of a violent incident,” and the situation at the centre is “very serious'”, justice ministry inspectors warned on Wednesday.

Refugee settlement agency staff and private security guards can no longer guarantee safety and the police are too short staffed to help out, the inspectors say. The number of weapons confiscated from residents “tripled” to 160 in April, and drugs and stolen property have also been recovered.

The centre is the first port of call for all new arrivals in the Netherlands but its population includes several hundred young men, who come from safe third countries with no hope of their application succeeding. They live alongside families and people fleeing war zones in overcrowded conditions with few diversions, making for a volatile mix.

Inspectors say they have given multiple warnings about the situation in the past few months but that there has been no improvement. The number of serious incidents has increased and several people have been injured.

In particular, there have been eight stabbings since the last visit in December and on Tuesday, police shot one person, thought to be an asylum seeker, in the leg, according to RTV Noord.  

The reception centre is supposed to house no more than 2,000 asylum seekers but the maximum has been broken so often that the COA has been forced to pay €1.5 million in fines to the local council.

The inspectors say staff have not been trained to deal with violent incidents and have called on justice minister Dilan Yesilgöz and her deputy Eric van der Burg to take steps to end the problems “in the very short term”.

Van der Burg has been struggling to find more accommodation for refugees, not helped by the new government’s decision to scrap legislation designed to ensure all local authorities provide some form of housing.

Local police chief Liesbeth Huyzer said in a statement that the police are fully aware of the seriousness of the situation. “But it is not up to the police to solve it,” she said. “It is a managerial and political problem.”

Earlier warnings

Last December the inspectors also sounded the alarm, saying the “most basic demands in terms of bed and board” are not being met and that the refugee settlement agency COA “urgently needs assistance”. 

That same month a report by Groningen’s local health board into living conditions at the centre, listed a litany of problems, including poor hygiene, dirty mattresses, overflowing bins and methadone use by some residents.

Once the new government has been sworn in, it will be up to Marjolein Faber, a former senator for the far-right PVV, to deal with the issue.

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