Asylum seekers evacuated from Ter Apel amid concerns for health, hygiene
Several buses brought asylum seekers from Ter Apel to different locations across the country on Friday evening, after the Health and Youth Care Inspectorate (IGJ) sounded the alarm about health conditions at the application center. A team from Doctors Without Borders (AzG) treated 80 people in the Ter Apel asylum seekers’ center on Friday and discovered issues ranging from neglected illnesses to skin infections.
AzG began providing medical assistance to asylum seekers on Thursday. The treated people mainly have neglected injuries, but many people also had skin infections and some had chronic diseases that had not been cared for. One person was sent to the hospital on Friday with complaints that have not been disclosed.
Hundreds of people have been sleeping outside of the application center for days without proper facilities such as showers. On Thursday, three people were sent to the hospital from the grounds. One of them had a heart attack, another was a diabetic who had been without insulin for weeks. It is not known what the third person suffered from.
On Friday, the IGJ raised the alarm with health minister Ernst Kuipers and the chairman of the Groningen Safety Region Koen Schuiling about the health situation at Ter Apel. According to the IGJ, there is a high risk of infectious diseases breaking out due to the lack of hygiene on the site. There is a lack of water, clean toilets, showers and shelter.
According to the inspectorate, an outbreak of infectious diseases is not only a threat to the health of the people waiting on the site for their asylum application, "but also for everyone who works or lives there.” Sufficient water, sanitation and shelter are needed immediately to restore hygienic conditions. The spread of infectious diseases must also be taken into account when moving people to reception locations.
The AzG spokesperson said 80 people was “a lot” and indicated that they were all men over the age of 18. Women and children within the application center have already been receiving care, which the spokesperson called “a good sign.”
The Inspectorate stated that it was "very impressed with the efforts made by people from the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders in Ter Apel. They provide basic medical care under extremely difficult circumstances.”
As a result of the inspectorate's concerns, buses were prepared to take about 390 asylum seekers from the grounds to locations in Utrecht, Stadskanaal, Zuidbroek, Almere and Groningen on Friday evening, said a spokesperson for the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA). At least 50 people could go to Almere, while 100 could go to the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht.
According to the spokesperson, although the buses were ready on Friday evening, some people were not sure they wanted to go and ended up walking away. She could not say exactly how many left in the end. However, a spokesperson for Vluchtelingenwerk said that about 50 to 80 people stayed behind. Many asylum seekers were "afraid to get on a bus" for fear that their asylum application would be processed later as a result.
In order to help solve the "distressing and acute situation,” the municipality of Utrecht is sending its own people to Ter Apel in the short term to help. This includes crisis managers and other auxiliary troops who will provide support to ensure that registration and the reception of people run as quickly and smoothly as possible.
All the people who asked for help on Friday were examined by the medical team, according to the AzG spokesperson. The clinic is also open on weekends: "as long as there are people in front of the gate, we are present,” she said.
It was announced on Friday evening that from next week the Ministry of Defense will house asylum seekers from Ter Apel who would otherwise have to sleep outside the gates of the application center. The ministry will also help transport the asylum seekers to the application center for registration. State Secretary Eric van der Burg (Asylum) could not yet say exactly where the asylum seekers will be housed.
"If steps are taken for a decent living environment where people can wait for their procedure in good conditions and where there is access to medical care, we will no longer need to be present [at the application center]," the AzG spokesperson said.
Reporting by ANP and NL Times