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Netherlands: Asylum seekers ‘living like dogs’ at Ter Apel shelter

Hundreds of asylum seekers forced to sleep in the open on muddy ground as the overcrowded asylum centre fails to provide shelter
Ter Apel
Asylum seekers sleep on the ground for the third night in a row, outside the registration and application centre in Ter Apel, on 26 August 2022 (AFP)
By Maya-Nora Saaid in Ter Apel, Netherlands

More than 700 asylum seekers have been sleeping in the open for days outside the Netherlands' main asylum centre, where harsh conditions have prompted Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to deploy at the site for the first time.

Upon reaching the facility in the northern town of Ter Apel, asylum seekers are met with long queues of people waiting to be processed as the staff struggle to cope with the number of applicants. 

People say they have been forced to sleep on muddy ground because they could not get access to safe shelter due to overcrowding. The asylum seekers are a diverse group from Syria; Nigeria; Palestine; Morocco; Eritrea; and Tunisia, among others

Refugees show their papers at the main reception centre for asylum seekers, in Ter Apel, Netherlands 17 August 2022 (Reuters)
Refugees show their papers at the main reception centre for asylum seekers, in Ter Apel, Netherlands, 17 August 2022 (Reuters)

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"I've been here for 10 days and I have not even had one shower yet."

MSF described the conditions as "inhumane", adding there were no showers and no clean toilets. 

"People who are healthy will become unhealthy here," MSF director Judith Sargentini said on Friday.

One asylum seeker called on Dutch authorities to allow those with families in the country to stay with them while their asylum applications are being processed.

"We have no space to sleep… why don't they just take our emails and phone numbers and contact us when they are ready to complete the procedure?" he said.

'We just want to sleep'

On 1 August, the Dutch Council for Refugees filed a lawsuit against the government saying the inhumane conditions at the shelter amounted to a violation of European law. 

The council, whose case is due to be heard on 15 September, is demanding improved conditions by 1 October, including access to clean water, showers, privacy, adequate food and health care.

'We do not expect women and children to cope with this kinda situation'

- Asylum seeker

"Some of us are depressed. We do not expect women and children to cope with this kinda situation. It is not OK," one asylum seeker told MEE.

On Friday, the Dutch government said it would tackle the situation at the Ter Apel shelter by increasing capacity and ordering regional authorities to accept more refugees.

The announcement came a day after the government opened an investigation into the death of a three-month-old baby by "unknown causes" at a sports gymnasium being used as a makeshift shelter for newcomers with nowhere else to sleep.

MSF nurse and midwife Ruth Kauffman told MEE that many people at Ter Apel had run out of medication for chronic diseases.

"We had to send three people to the hospital by ambulance for heart conditions and diabetes," she said. 

"We have a lot of people who have skin infections from being outside, infected wounds, respiratory tract infection, and gastrointestinal problems."

Last month, asylum seekers told MEE that conditions were getting worse because the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA), which oversees the shelters, has delayed starting the procedures for their asylum applications, leaving them out in the open.

A COA spokesperson said the system was being overwhelmed by arrivals.

"There has not been one single person who did not take advantage of us along the way," one asylum seeker said.

"We don't want money. We just want to sleep."

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