Dutch king meets with asylum seekers at crowded Ter Apel center
King Willem-Alexander and State Secretary Eric van der Burg, who handles asylum policy, visited the asylum application center in Ter Apel on Wednesday afternoon. They spoke with employees of the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) and with asylum seekers who have just arrived in the Netherlands, among others. The situation at the application center has been dire for some time now because of the lack of reception places for asylum seekers.
King Willem-Alexander was particularly interested in the personal experiences the employees of the COA and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) faced when working in the grim situation there. They unanimously said that this was not what they wanted. "You start working at COA to do something for the fellow human beings who are refugees, and you get the feeling that you are failing," said one of them. The king seemed moved and said he was aware that the employees are doing more than their best to help the refugees.
The king spoke to an Iranian family and two men from Syria in the hall for newcomers. These people had just been in the center for a day and said they were well taken care of there. On the field in front of the center, where hundreds of asylum seekers have recently slept outside at night, the asylum seekers thronged to take a selfie with the king, and some were able to discuss their personal situation with him.
On many occasions, hundreds of asylum seekers have had to sleep outside of the application center in Ter Apel because no reception place could be found for them. Hygiene facilities also left much to be desired, with filthy toilets where human waste piled up. The Health and Youth Care Inspectorate, which raised the alarm about the health situation last week, announced the arrival of showers and washbasins on Tuesday.
On the field in front of the application center, the king spoke with employees of the Red Cross, refugee advocates from VluchtelingenWerk and Doctors Without Borders. They spoke frankly, saying that the situation in Ter Apel in recent weeks was worse than that in many refugee camps abroad. "There were people who had not been on their medication for weeks. Some were so sick that they had to go to hospital. That was not necessary," said Linda Buijze, a nurse at Doctors Without Borders.
She also offered the king a cough suppressant in passing when he said he was recovering from pneumonia. Willem-Alexander had to stop to cough repeatedly during the visit, for which he apologized.
The king also spoke with the local police officers from Ter Apel and agents of the Aliens Police. Because the flow of traffic has come to a standstill in the asylum chain, people remain in the Groningen village longer than necessary, they said. They have increasingly been forced to deal with excesses and annoying behaviour. "We are more concerned with maintaining public order than with investigation," said one of them.
Reporting by ANP