Tuesday 21 March 2023

Asylum seekers left out in the cold as Ter Apel reaches saturation point

Asylum seekers outside Ter Apel accommodation centre. Photo: ANP/Vincent Jannink

Dozens of asylum seekers in Ter Apel spent part of Tuesday night on the grass outside the fence as overcrowding problems continue to plague the accommodation centre.

The organisation responsible for housing refugees, COA said the facility in Groningen was full and new arrivals would have to be taken in by the immigration service (IND) in Budel, 275 km away.

The asylum seekers had to wait until after midnight for transport to be arranged so they could spend the rest of the night in waiting rooms and offices.

COA staff handed out blankets to people who faced a night sleeping outdoors and found space for the most vulnerable. ‘This illustrates the shortage of accommodation places in this country,’ said spokeswoman Jacqueline Engbers. ‘It’s deeply sad and not what COA staff want to see.’

The mayor of Westerwolde, Jaap Velema, told RTV Noord he had spent Tuesday evening trying to sort out the crisis. ‘Eventually we found places for them in Budel, but the transport hadn’t been arranged,’ he said. ‘Tomorrow asylum seekers will be relocated in Budel and other locations.’

The municipality and safety board for Groningen have repeatedly warned about overcrowding problems at Ter Apel since the autumn. The lack of beds has been exacerbated by staff shortages and a backlog in processing people who have been granted asylum but are still waiting for a permanent home.

Last month the local council ordered the COA to limit numbers at Ter Apel to 2,000, as originally agreed, and remove the ’emergency pavilions’ that were set up two years ago as overnight accommodation for newcomers.

The marquee tents offered little privacy and fell short of acceptable standards of hygiene and personal safety, authorities said. There were reports of fights on site and fears that the cramped conditions would trigger an outbreak of coronavirus infections.

Last October RTV Noord obtained documents showing that efforts by local officials and staff at the justice ministry to alleviate the problem had been blocked by ‘political hesitation’ in The Hague, at a time when talks to form a new government were ongoing.

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