UNICEF concerned for safety of 350 unaccompanied refugee children at Ter Apel
More than five times as many unaccompanied, underage asylum seekers as officially allowed are staying in facilities at Ter Apel, the COA confirmed to Dagblad van het Noorden. Around 50 of them have had to sleep in chairs at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND).
There is only room in the application center for 55 children. However, 350 unaccompanied minors are currently at the Ter Apel center. COA spokesperson Jacqueline Engbers told Dagblad van het Noorden that the situation was "unacceptable."
The rooms where the children are staying are not in good condition, either. "I don't know if they are dirty, but there is minimal guidance available for them. We have fallen short of that. We have already stated that before.” According to UNICEF Netherlands, an estimated dozen children also have had to spend the night outside at Ter Apel.
The number of unaccompanied children in the facility has doubled since June. Most of the children are aged 14-18 and come from Syria. Engbers would neither confirm nor deny to the newspaper whether the children had been sent ahead by their parents. She did say that children are usually given priority at the overloaded application center. "As far as we are concerned, these children must be properly cared for and properly supervised.”
The children's ombudsman Margrite Kalverboer has expressed concern about the situation at Ter Apel. UNICEF is also worried about children seeking asylum. After the measures announced by the Cabinet on Friday to deal with the Netherlands' refugee reception crisis, new conditions have been set for reunifying refugee children with their parents. But, according to UNICEF Netherlands, these conditions go against existing rules and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
"Children have the right to be reunited with their parents as soon as possible," UNICEF said in a statement. According to the new proposals, family members who want to travel after refugee family may only come to the Netherlands if there is a home for the family. According to UNICEF, this should not be a condition for family reunification. It has "major negative consequences" for children, who would be separated from their parents for unnecessarily long.
The organization is also concerned about children seeking refuge in the Netherlands on their own, saying it has received "worrying signals" about their health and safety. Around 300 people spent Saturday night outside at Ter Apel amid dropping temperatures.
Reporting by ANP