Netherlands reveals plan to resolve asylum crisis, incl. Family reunification limits, Military aid
The Cabinet intends to take several immediate steps to solve the humanitarian crisis involving overcrowded asylum reception centers in the Netherlands. Letters sent by Cabinet members to parliamentarians later on Friday revealed that the intention is to adjust and limit the manner in which asylum seekers' family members can be accepted into the Netherlands for reunification, stop accepting new asylum seekers under the terms of the European Union's agreement with Turkey, and to make thousands of homes available for refugees with residency rights this year.
Additionally, the government will quickly create a facility to provide more shelter as a temporary alternative to the overcrowded site in Ter Apel where hundreds of people have had to sleep outside with no shelter. The Cabinet has "found a way out of the problem", said Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday, but the problems in Ter Apel will certainly continue throughout the weekend.
He acknowledged that there is "administrative failure" in the asylum reception chain. "Definitely," said the prime minister when asked about it. He said that the Cabinet was too quick to phase out shelters after the large number of refugees arrived from Syria in 2015 and 2016. He also said he was ashamed of the living conditions people in Ter Apel have endured.
The steps announced by Eric van der Burg, the state secretary in charge of asylum policy, and Housing Minister Hugo de Jonge are aimed at ensuring that enough space is given "to put things in order," Rutte said. "But an asylum stop means closing the borders completely. That is not possible. Regardless of whether you find that socially desirable, that is not an option that we have as a member of the European Union."
Members of Rutte's VVD party, including local politicians and parliamentarians, have called for consideration of a total ban on allowing asylum seekers in the country. The far right-wing opposition has also called for this. However, Rutte said it's not an option. "An asylum stop is not possible. Then we have to leave the European Union, that is not possible."
Cabinet to stall family reunification to EU limit
One way in which the Cabinet plans to ease the pressure on the reception of asylum seekers in the Netherlands is by adjusting the visa provision for family members of those asylum seekers who are already in the Netherlands. They will not be allowed to legally enter the country until a home is available for the family. The intention is that the application process will get underway and will be assessed during the wait. The visa itself will only be issued once they can move into a home.
Not only will fewer people come to the Netherlands for the time being, these people no longer have to wait for their application in Ter Apel, said Van der Burg. People have to wait up to fifteen months to follow their relative already in the country. That is still within the maximum period according to the European directive for family reunification. When the fifteen months have passed, the families can still come to the Netherlands. The Cabinet is working on a bill to extend the decision period by another three months, because the European directive also allows this.
The family reunification applications will soon be processed in the order in which they are submitted. "The people who arrive first must be the first to move on to a home, so that their family can also come over," said Van der Burg.
Netherlands to stop taking asylum seekers under Turkey agreement
The measure is temporary and will apply through 2023, but it will be re-evaluated in July, he emphasized. The same was said for the Cabinet's plan to stop accepting people who are allowed to come to Europe under the EU's deal with Turkey. Under terms of the deal, authorities are allowed to return an asylum seeker to Turkey if they are caught trying to reach the islands of Greece. For each person returned, the EU Member States has to accept one person waiting inside Turkey.
According to Van der Burg, the Netherlands has resettled a "substantial number of people" for years in this way, even relatively more than all other European countries. The total is about a thousand people per year, but that is no longer possible now that "we have people sleeping in the grass in Ter Apel, or in sports halls." Van der Burg called it irresponsible to continue to let people to arrive that way considering the current situation.
Housing will be created for up to 20,000 refugees this year, cutting social housing stock
The Cabinet has also decided to accommodate at least 15,300 refugees with residency rights in a more or less normal home this year. Attempts are being made to accommodate as many as 20,000 people, Van der Burg wrote to the Tweede Kamer. In order to achieve this, it is expected that almost one in eight social housing rentals that become available in the coming months will be allocated to refugees.
De Jonge is also trying to speed up the construction of flexible housing. His goal was to build 37,500 homes up to and including 2024, of which an estimated 12,000 will go to refugees. Those houses do not yet exist, which is why people will be accommodated in social housing for the time being.
Normally, about 5 to 10 percent of social housing is allocated to asylum seekers who are allowed to stay in the Netherlands. Van der Burg estimated that this figure will be 12 percent this year. The government hopes that the percentages will return to their previous level in the first half of 2023. The intention is for the percentage to fall further in the future, provided that it is actually possible to accommodate a larger proportion of people in flexible housing. The rest of the flexible homes, about two-thirds, are intended for others who need homes, including first-time buyers.
Of the more than 40,000 people in shelters, about 16,000 have been given residency status. This means that they have gone through the procedure and it has been established that they are allowed to stay in the Netherlands. It is expected that more status holders will have to get a home next year than this year, from 20,400 to 23,900, the Cabinet estimated.
Defense ministry to help relieve Ter Apel crisis
The Ministry of Defense will also make a location available to accommodate asylum seekers who would otherwise have to sleep outside the gates of the primary reception center in Ter Apel because of a lack of space. From there, they will be taken to the application center where they can register as an asylum seeker. The ministry will also help with transportation back and forth, Van der Burg announced.
The intention is to set up "a number system" in Ter Apel, said Van der Burg. New asylum seekers who want to register in Ter Apel will receive a number with which they can go to Ter Apel at a later date to register for the asylum procedure. That could take days and sometimes even longer, the minister thinks.
Many asylum seekers do not want to leave Ter Apel because they are afraid that they will be sent to the back of the line again. Over the past period, hundreds of people slept outside in Ter Apel every night.
In addition to the location on a military site, Van der Burg also hopes that newly arriving asylum seekers can go to a sufficient emergency crisis shelter in other places. Especially women, children and other vulnerable people can visit there for initial care and aid.
Van der Burg was not yet able to say exactly in which military site the Ministry of Defense will receive people. He specified that "several hundreds of people" can stay there in semi-permanent housing, such as portocabins. The Ministry of Defense will also help with the construction of the location and with the supply of personnel. The intention is that this location will be in use "from next week," according to a letter Van der Burg sent to the Tweede Kamer.
The fact that the military is now making a reception location available for emergency relief is because a mayor has asked to assist in this way, Van der Burg said. He pointed out that the military is already helping with the reception of Ukrainian refugees in De Harskamp, for example.
Ukrainians are not part of the the asylum procedure.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times