Sunday 04 December 2022

New law to house asylum seekers held up by internal row in VVD

A refugee centre in Amsterdam. Photo: Lauren Comiteau

Plans to ease the bottleneck in the asylum system by legally requiring local councils to accommodate refugees are facing strong resistance from the largest coalition party, the VVD.

MPs for the right-wing liberal party have not yet agreed to support a law proposed by VVD asylum minister, Eric van der Burg, which would allow him to allocate refugees to municipalities whether or not they agreed, NOS reported, citing unnamed sources.

At the moment the cabinet negotiates with local authorities on where to accommodate asylum seekers and people who have been given settled status – known as ‘statushouders’.

But last month only one municipality out of 344 responded to an appeal by Van der Burg to arrange extra places for unaccompanied child refugees. There are currently around 300 children living without their parents at the asylum reception centre in Ter Apel, Groningen, which only has space for 55.

The VVD wants a broader deal that includes measures to limit the number of people arriving in the Netherlands as part of the solution.

Its MPs were due to meet on Monday morning for a special session to discuss the issue, but the meeting was cancelled at the last minute because the party group wants more information from Van der Burg on his plans.

Rutte called in

The issue will now be discussed at the regular weekly meeting of VVD MPs on Tuesday, where prime minister and party leader Mark Rutte will try to convince his party members to back the deal.

It is expected to dominate the VVD’s autumn congress on November 19, where party groups have already drafted motions against the plans.

A group calling itself Klassiek Liberaal (‘Classic Liberal’) is objecting to the plan to force ministers’ decisions on local authorities, arguing that ‘it turns decentralised government into executive bodies for a failed national policy.’

Another coalition party, the Christian Democrats (CDA), is also calling for tighter restrictions on migration. Party leader Wopke Hoekstra told the CDA’s autumn conference at the weekend that ‘we simply don’t have a strong enough grip’ on the issue.

Meanwhile the other two parties in government, D66 and the ChristenUnie, are urging the cabinet to take a more hands-on role in distributing refugees around the country.

Court ruling

The government is also under pressure from the courts, after judges in The Hague ruled last month that it must improve conditions for asylum seekers living in emergency accommodation.

Nearly 30,000 people are currently living in improvised facilities such as sports halls, ferries, converted offices and holiday parks. Van der Burg has appealed against the ruling, but the government has been told it must take action without waiting for the outcome of that hearing later this month.

Koen Schuiling, the mayor of Groningen, told breakfast news broadcaster WNL he wanted to see an end to the political stalemate.

‘We’ve been dealing with this situation for 14 months and we’ve seen the misery on the street level,’ he said. ‘We’re the ones who are having to fix the situation on the ground, so it would be nice to see the green light for this law from the towers in The Hague.’

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