In the asylum seeker center Ter Apel, around 350 children without parents are currently being looked after, while officially there is only room for 55 unaccompanied minors. Around fifty of these young people are forced to stay in the waiting room at the Immigration Agency IND on site. There are no beds there. The children spend the night on a chair. There is no guidance, only safety. They get food (microwave meals) and drinks, they can go to the toilet, but there is no shower. Sources say so NRCthe figures and circumstances are confirmed by the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA).
Rescue workers on site are very concerned about children’s well-being and safety. Unaccompanied minors are the most vulnerable group of refugees. In Ter Apel, these children are usually cared for in a separate place on site, more or less separated from adult refugees. After their asylum application, it is the rule that within a few days they are accommodated in shelters especially for young people throughout the Netherlands. Those places are full. IND is also struggling with a backlog. Seven counselors are present during the day for the three hundred young people who are not in the waiting room at IND, but who stay at the general reception center in Ter Apel. At night there are two.
The rights of children in Dutch refugee centers are being violated, their safety is at stake, concluded the Justice and Security Inspectorate and the Healthcare and Youth Inspectorate in June this year. At that time, inspectors counted 170 unaccompanied minors during a visit to Ter Apel. So there are now twice as many.
In a ‘fire letter’ to State Secretary Eric van der Burg (Asylum and Migration, VVD), the supervisors wrote that COA employees ‘have no room for individual attention’. “Room checks are no longer done frequently, which degrades hygiene, and meals are no longer eaten together because the dining room is not suitable for the large group.” The mood is uneasy, wrote the inspectors, who are nuisances. “There is no good overview of security.” An employee now adds that children were found who had barely eaten for days.
COA already sounded the alarm last year. At the end of October, the summit warned the Ministry of Justice and Security that safety and quality of life are under pressure in the asylum seeker centres, that guidance is substandard and that the workload is “unacceptably high”. Since then, the pressure in asylum reception has only increased. Almost every third COA employee in Ter Apel is sick at home.
Also read: Despair grows in Ter Apel: ‘Go back. It makes no sense to wait here
Inside the application center, access for journalists is limited. The problem is now also clearly visible to the outside world in front of the crowded application center. Refugees have been sleeping on the grass in front of the closed gate for weeks. This week there were more than ever: seven hundred people. During the day, women and children are removed from the group and given shelter in an emergency shelter. But at night, according to various sources, it is difficult to filter all unaccompanied minors from the group. Sometimes they also sleep outside at night. Hundreds of refugees were brought to emergency shelters in buses on Friday evening. The Health and Youth Authority had sounded the alarm about the situation in the field in front of the application centre. According to the inspectorate, there is a “great risk” of an outbreak of infectious diseases.
In total, more than ten thousand minor refugees stay in Dutch refugee centres. According to the inspections, in June there were 8,800 children and young people in families and 1,450 without parents.
In April, Children’s Ombudsman Margrite Kalverboer visited the unit on site in Ter Apel, where this group is based. She concluded that children are “mentally overlooked.” At that time there were 113 minors without parents. These young people need attention and contact, Kalverboer told NRC at the time. “They come from a situation of acute stress. Then you expose them to total neglect. What do you think will happen then? You are making their problems worse. The government is responsible for that.”