Asylum costs still out of control in the Netherlands after 28 years of warnings
The Dutch government has remained incapable of controlling the costs for the reception of asylum seekers because the system is constantly going through a cycle of being built up and broken down again, concluded the Court of Audit after an investigation. The court has issued warnings about this for 28 years, but has yet to see a reason to conclude that the situation will improve.
Asylum reception spending has remained well over budget for a long time. For example, it was expected that housing would cost over 500 million euros last year, but the final bill ended up being more than a billion euros higher than that. This is often the case, said the independent court, which is tasked with monitoring public spending. This is because new crises in the reception of asylum seekers consistently arise, sometimes as a result of government policy itself.
Every time there is a reduction in the number of asylum seekers travelling to the Netherlands, reception centers are closed. When more people arrive again, facilities must be urgently scaled up. This leads to poorer quality reception at a higher price, according to the Court of Audit. Moreover, State Secretary Eric van der Burg, who controls asylum policy for the Cabinet, and the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) do not have a good overview about how much this costs. This is the case even as the policy also leads to social unrest.
The Court of Audit said that it is currently not possible to determine how many beds should be structurally available in order to use taxpayers' money as efficiently as possible. It is clear how much a reception place roughly costs: 70 euros per day for an occupied bed and 47 euros per day for an unoccupied bed. A proper assessment can only be made when it is clear how much it will cost the number of beds up or down. Thus, the Court of Audit was also unable to calculate those costs in this audit.
The investigation showed "that the reception of refugees winds up from one crisis to another due to failing policy," said refugee advocacy group VluchtelingenWerk. "The Court of Audit has now also calculated that cheap is expensive," the organization said. "The constant opening and closing of asylum seekers' centers and the cuts in organizations such as the Immigration and Naturalization Service cause crises that are many times more expensive than the cuts yield."
State Secretary Van der Burg said in a response that it is good to have the facts and figures at hand, although the results did not surprise him. "The figures once again show that overcrowded shelters and emergency solutions for beds lead to higher costs in implementation." He has often acknowledged that phasing out reception capacity after 2016 was not the best decision in retrospect and said he is also working on a "stable situation with reserve capacity for new peaks in occupancy." The new law, which spreads out the reception more evenly across the country, will also help, he claimed.
COA also broadly understood the findings, wrote COA board chair Milo Schoenmaker in a letter to the Court of Audit. A more stable reception system is in development, including a determination about the costs of scaling the system up or down.
VluchtelingenWerk wants the Cabinet to learn lessons from the investigation. For example, according to the organization, realistic forecasts about the expected number of asylum applications are needed, the capacity of COA must be expanded, and the immigration service must receive more stable funding.
Reporting by ANP