Children neglected at Ter Apel asylum center: Ombudsman
Children in the asylum application center in Ter Apel are neglected to the extent that they leave the center with more trauma than they arrived with, Children's Ombudsman Maregrite Kalverboer said to NRC after visiting the center. Unaccompanied minors spend too long in the center without any form of daytime activities, help, or attention, she said.
There are 113 minors without family in Ter Apel. Nothing has been arranged for them, Kalverboer said. "No education, no activities, no help: nothing. They get something to eat - and that's it. Supervisors told me they don't even wake children up in the morning because there is nothing to do anyway," she said.
Officially, asylum seekers should move out of the Ter Apel application center to an asylum center within six days. But this term is never met, Kalverboer said. Kids are stuck in the application center for weeks or even months.
Kalverboer spoke to three minors there. "A 16-year-old boy who fled Afghanistan alone has been there for three weeks now. All alone, with a lot of stress. He said that he mainly misses a phone and a watch. Because when he lies awake at night, he has no idea what time it is. He was totally disorientated."
Two 17-year-old girls who fled from Syria told the Ombudsman how lonely and hopeless they felt. "They had been sitting there doing nothing for weeks, not knowing when they would finally be taken care of somewhere. There are traumatized children. You cannot just leave them to their fate," Kalverboer said. "They come from a situation of acute stress. Then you expose them to total neglect. What do you think will happen then? You are exacerbating their problems. The government is responsible for that."
All the involved authorities know about this issue, Kalverboer said. "That's what I find so astonishing about this. When I discuss this with the Ministry of Justice and Security, they say: we already know this; we don't think it's right either. The IND and COA are also aware of this, and they are very sorry. But nobody does anything."
Kalverboer suggested two solutions. Either the stay in Ter Apel is reduced to the statutory six days. Or the shelter in Ter Apel is expanded considerably to include daytime activities, training, and counseling. "Because the current policy is driving these children crazy," she said.
The Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) agrees that unaccompanied minors must move from the Ter Apel center as quickly as possible. But added that "there are too few reception places elsewhere in the Netherlands." The COA is taking measures to limit the damage, it said to the newspaper. It deployed new coaches on Thursday to mentally support the minors, the agency said.