The court found migrant camps in the Netherlands did not meet European standards | Photo: Vincent Jannink / ANP / picture-alliance
The court found migrant camps in the Netherlands did not meet European standards | Photo: Vincent Jannink / ANP / picture-alliance

A court in The Hague railed against conditions at asylum centers in the Netherlands. The situation got so bad this summer that Doctors Without Borders deployed teams over humanitarian concerns.

A Dutch civil court in The Hague on Thursday ordered the government to address grave safety issues at some of the country's immigrant and asylum facilities.

In a case brought by the Dutch Council for Refugees, the court said, "The state … has an obligation to receive asylum-seekers in a dignified manner."

The Council for Refugees brought the case after a crisis this summer saw more than 700 immigrants forced to sleep outside for months while waiting for their paperwork to be processed.

The situation at the Ter Apel migration facility near Groningen, in which a three-month-old baby died, was so bad that it triggered the first deployment of a group of volunteers from the medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) in the Netherlands. MSF representatives at the time warned of a humanitarian emergency.

The court found that conditions at Ter Apel did not meet basic European standards, offering insufficient hygienic and sanitary facilities, as well as lacking space for immigrants to sleep.

The court ordered the government to ensure all individuals at migrant centers in the country be provided with a "safe, covered place to sleep, food, water and access to hygienic sanitary facilities …. immediately." Other steps to improve the situation, said the court, must be undertaken "within the shortest possible time." 

The situation at Ter Apel was so bad this summer that international relief agencies were deployed | Photo: Vincent Jannink / ANP / picture-alliance
The situation at Ter Apel was so bad this summer that international relief agencies were deployed | Photo: Vincent Jannink / ANP / picture-alliance

Dutch Council for Refugees: Verdict 'not a cause for joy'

Frank Candel, chairman of the Dutch Council for Refugees, called the court's decision "a crystal clear and necessary ruling." Still, he added, "this is not yet a cause for joy …. It is sad that something as basic as humane reception conditions require a court order."

"We will not rest as long as asylum-seekers have to sleep in a tent, gym or event hall," Candel saind, noting that currently some 18,000 immigrants are being subjected to "harmful conditions" at the country's migrant centers.

Eric van den Burg, the Dutch government Cabinet member in charge of the country's asylum system, said that although he shared concerns raised by the Council for Refugees, the government of the Netherlands simply could not "offer asylum-seekers what we could in previous years."

Van den Burg did not say why that is the case but promised the government would make an appeal to local communities to improve conditions.

Candel said the problem is not one that has popped up overnight due to an overwhelming number of refugees but rather it is the result of years of immigration policy failure.

First published: October 6, 2022

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