Professor: Small asylum centers are also problematic

Criticism from the National Ombudsman and Board for the Protection of Human Rights on the conditions in large asylum centers such as the Heumensoord camp in Nijmegen, has many calling for smaller-scale shelters. But according to Marlou Schrover, professor of migration history at Leiden University, small asylum centers come with their own set of problems and are not a realistic option.

"In the past small-scale reception did not work. Politicians calling for this again, seem to have short memories", Schrover said to newspaper Trouw. The professor studied the about 3,500 Tamils who sought asylum in the Netherlands from Sri Lanka in the early eighties. At the agency Roa was responsible for arranging shelter for these asylum seekers, and did so on a small scale in countless hotels, guesthouses, and empty holiday villages. According to Schrover, the Roa files are filled with inspection reports on abuses in these small centers. Abuses included exploitation, fire hazards and tensions caused by too many people living in a too small space.

This led to the decentralized shelter of asylum seekers under the Roa being turned into centralized shelter under the Coa, the central agency responsible for asylum seekers reception. "The rationale was that a central and larger scale is better for security, easier to control and cheaper." she said.

The professor finds it interesting that the debate is now reversing, from large scale reception to small. She thinks switching back is an unrealistic task. According to Schrover, finding small-scale reception room for the about 3,000 asylum seekers living in Heumensoord alone is a major operation. Say you want to have shelters in which about 100 people live, you will need 30 municipalities to say yes to creating new shelters. "While already not all of them want to cooperate."

In addition to that, the costs are much higher - "all these places have an owner who wants to be paid". And security in control becomes a bigger task, with the result that incidents can increase, Schrover thinks. She also wonders whether social resistance is really smaller for small shelters.