Thursday 26 January 2023

COA facing shortfall of 38,000 asylum seeker places this year

A refugee centre in Amsterdam. Photo: Lauren Comiteau

The government is facing a shortfall of around 38,000 beds for asylum seekers this spring unless it arranges more emergency accommodation, according to estimates compiled by Nieuwsuur.

The COA, the organisation responsible for accommodating refugees, negotiated a number of deals for temporary shelter to relieve the reception centre in Ter Apel, which suffered from chronic overcrowding problems in the summer. But many of those contracts are due to expire in the coming months.

Asylum minister Eric van der Burg said his staff would do ‘everything we can’ to avoid a repeat of last year’s scenes, where people spent nights on the grass verge outside Ter Apel in conditions described by aid agency Médicins Sans Frontières as an ‘inhumane disaster’.

The COA has calculated it will need to 75,500 accommodation places this year, but currently has only 50,000 and is set to lose thousands of beds in the spring. ‘It’s a big task, but we’re better prepared than we were last year,’ Van der Burg said.

The temporary arrangements included a cruise ship moored off Velsen, on the North Sea coast, with capacity for 1,000 asylum seekers, and a large tented encampment on a theme park near Biddinghuizen where 1,500 people are currently living.

But the camp at Biddinghuizen is due to be handed back on March 15 so it can be used for summer festivals such as Lowlands.

Fears of repeat

Mayor Jean Paul Gebben said the municipality’s main asylum seekers’ centre only had space for 300 people. ‘We’ve said what we can do, but we can’t solve the nation’s problems,’ he said,.

Van der Burg last year secured support for a bill that will allow him to designate sites as asylum seeker accommodation even if local councils object to the plan, but it is still waiting to be evaluated by the Council of State before it can become law.

Jasper van Dijk, MP for the Socialist Party (SP), said the minister faced a repeat of the chaotic scenes at Ter Apel this summer unless urgent action was taken.

‘More people sleeping on the ground, children in chairs, the same distress. The government has a big problem.’

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