From file: People under subsidiary protection have had to wait for family reunifications to be allowed | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Pförtner
From file: People under subsidiary protection have had to wait for family reunifications to be allowed | Photo: picture-alliance/dpa/S. Pförtner

On Wednesday, the Dutch government announced it would be turning back restrictions it had placed in 2022 on family reunions for asylum seekers who had been granted residency in the Netherlands. The temporary suspension will last until a definitive ruling is made by the Dutch courts.

Eric van der Burg, the Dutch State Secretary for Justice and Security, announced on Wednesday, January 11, that he would be temporarily suspending family reunion restrictions which his government had placed on asylum seekers, who had been granted residency in the Netherlands.

He said the temporary suspension will last as long as it takes for the Dutch administrative courts to issue a definitive ruling on the matter. In December, the Dutch Refugee Council reported that it could take "weeks before the final judgement on the delay policy is pronounced."

Effectively, the Dutch government ruled that family members of recognized asylum seekers would need to wait at least 15 months before joining their relatives in the Netherlands, according to the Austrian newspaper Der Standard.

Even then, family members would only be allowed arrive if their relatives could prove they had adequate housing for them.

Restrictions placed in August 2022

The restrictions on family reunions were placed by the government in late August 2022, after authorities faced a housing crisis and overcrowding in asylum-seeker centers, reported the news agency Associated Press (AP).

During that time, hundreds of people ended up sleeping outside, or in insanitary conditions because of a lack of beds and facilities. The problem was particularly acute in and around the country’s main reception center in the north of the country, in a village called Ter Apel.

At one point, the situation became so difficult that the humanitarian medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) deployed teams in the country to help migrants and asylum seekers. AP reports this was the first time MSF was deployed in the Netherlands.

Also read: Dutch asylum center disaster

Housing crisis

The Dutch government decided that family reunions had to be temporarily suspended until asylum seekers could be permanently housed. They also set about trying to find more suitable accommodation for those who had had their asylum claims recognized, and to speed up repatriations on those deemed to come from safe countries.

However, since the restrictions were introduced, a number of Dutch courts have judged that family reunions should continue regardless. The policy also received criticism from the Dutch Council for Refugees which, according to AP, called the policy "politics at its most ugly."

On December 29, the Dutch Council for Refugees announced that the Dutch Council of State ruled that family reunification could continue after the Netherlands highest court had ruled in favor of two families who had taken their case to court, but at that point, the Refugee Council was still waiting for the government to definitively withdraw its policy as a whole.

Also read: Dutch authorities move asylum seekers camped outside Ter Apel center

In the case of the two families in December, courts in both Amsterdam and Middelburg ruled that delaying the families' reunion was illegal, and that family members affected by the ruling should be issued with immediate visas.

However, the state appealed, reported the Refugee Council, saying that until a final judgement had been passed by the courts, they wanted to continue with the suspension.

The Netherlands' highest court rejected that request, and thus the families were allowed immediate reunification.

A new reception crisis?

The Dutch Refugee Council meanwhile fears that when the delays in family reunions are lifted, another problem could arise:

In December, in their reporting of the issue on their website, they said that once the policy was definitively lifted, all the families affected would have the right to come to the Netherlands within a short space of time.

"We fear an acute reception problem will arise," wrote the Council on their website.

Also read: Baby dies at notorious Ter Apel asylum center

They called on government agencies to make preparations along with the municipalities, or face another crisis similar to the one the restriction was meant to solve.

Der Standard meanwhile also reports that the center-right Dutch government, led by Prime Minister Mark Rutte, has stated that although family reunions may be starting up again, they still hope to find mechanisms to slow down the numbers of asylum seekers arriving in their country.

With AP, dpa


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