Saturday 03 December 2022

Court orders government to improve conditions at Ter Apel refugee centre

Photo: Ministry of Justice

The Dutch state has been ordered to take steps to bring accommodation for asylum seekers up to international standards after it was taken to court by refugee agency Vluchtelingenwerk.

The district court in The Hague ruled that all refugees have the right to a roof over their heads, ‘at least 4 square metres of space, a door that can be locked and a window that can be opened,’ as well as sufficient food, drinking water and clean sanitation.

Vluchtelingenwerk brought the case after up to 700 people a night were left to sleep on the grass outside the facility over the summer because of chronic overcrowding.

Earlier this week government inspectors condemned conditions at Ter Apel, where they found families huddled together in a ‘cold, draughty and dirty sports hall’. They also criticised the lack of showers, filthy toilets and lack of medical provision.

The court granted Vluchtelingenwerk’s request for an injunction to force the government to improve conditions at Ter Apel and emergency facilities to comply with international standards, including EU guidelines and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

However, it rejected an argument that the government should treat all refugees equally, in response to the more generous arrangements for Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion. The court said Ukrainians faced a different situation from other refugees.

Unaccompanied minors

The court also gave the government two weeks to improve conditions for unaccompanied minors in Ter Apel. Currently there are around 300 children living alone at the facility, even though it only has space for 55. The rules say they should be moved to specialist accommodation within five days.

A spokesman for junior asylum minister Eric van der Burg said he was in talks with Vluchtelingenwerk and would write to local authorities to ask for help accommodating unaccompanied children.

‘Vluchtelingenwerk’s concerns are our concerns,’ the spokesman said. ‘At the moment we are not offering asylum seekers what we could offer them in previous years, and we can see that.

‘Our priority is that minors are vulnerable and deserve to be accommodated humanely in a safe environment,’ he said.

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