Hundreds of asylum seekers moved from squalid Dutch camp

Dutch towns and cities have offered accommodation to Ukrainians fleeing war, but a similar welcome has not been extended to others.

Dutch authorities have transferred about 400 asylum seekers from a makeshift camp outside an overcrowded migrant reception centre in the northeastern Netherlands where hundreds of people were sleeping rough.

The move came after a team from the country’s Health and Youth Care Inspectorate visited the squalid, temporary camp in the village of Ter Apel – near the northern city of Groningen – where more than 700 people have been sleeping rough, many for almost three weeks.

The inspectorate said there was “a serious risk of outbreaks of infectious diseases as a result of the total lack of hygiene” at the centre.

A three-month-old baby died this week in a sports hall at the Ter Apel centre. Authorities are investigating the cause of death. Two men were also taken to the hospital, one for a heart attack and another for diabetes that had gone untreated for weeks.

“We hope to slowly normalise the situation at Ter Apel,” Leon Veldt, a spokesman for the government’s asylum seeker accommodation organisation, said on Saturday.

The refugees were moved overnight from Ter Apel to alternative accommodation in other locations, Veldt said.

Refugees wait outdoors on damp ground at the main reception centre for asylum seekers in Ter Apel, the Netherlands, on August 17, 2022 [Piroschka van de Wouw/Reuters]

Refugee advocates likened the situation at Ter Apel to overcrowded camps in Greece and Italy, which are common first destinations of Europe-bound asylum seekers.

The conditions were so bad that the Dutch branch of Doctors Without Borders sent a team there on Thursday, the relief agency’s first deployment in the Netherlands.

While many Dutch towns and cities have offered places to stay to Ukrainians who fled the war in their country, the welcome has worn thin for asylum seekers from other countries.

Most people arriving in Ter Apel are Syrians fleeing their nation’s grinding civil war.

Ashamed

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Friday that he was ashamed of the scenes in Ter Apel, and that night his government announced a raft of measures aimed at easing the country’s asylum seeker accommodation crisis.

The measures include temporarily reining in refugee family reunions and the number of arriving migrants earmarked for the Netherlands under a 2016 deal between the European Union and Turkey.

The government said it also was working with local municipalities to create more homes for people who receive refugee status so they can more quickly move out of asylum seeker centres, freeing up space for new arrivals.

The Dutch military was also tasked with setting up a new camp to house people who are waiting to register asylum claims at the Ter Apel centre.

Milo Schoenmaker, the board chairman of the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, welcomed the moves.

“With the measures that have been announced, the application centre in Ter Apel can hopefully be relieved quickly. At the same time, there are still insufficient available places to accommodate everyone,” he said.

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