After a long journey, the struggle for legal recognition begins
By Margherita Capacci
With the number of people seeking asylum in the Netherlands increasing over the summer, many undocumented migrants in Groningen are now being left on the streets. In a time when COVID-19 is still far from over, is the government doing enough to solve this problem?
During the Coronavirus outbreak, the number of asylum seekers nationwide remained low. However, with the warmer months and the easing of travel restrictions in many countries, more and more people have started moving again. In July, the number of applications for asylum in the Netherlands reached 1679, compared to 888 in June. Of these, the majority is young men arriving from Syria, Turkey, Algeria; Morocco, or Nigeria, but this figure also includes a total of 93 unaccompanied minors in the month of July alone.
The Province of Groningen is home to the AZC (Asylum Seeker’s Centre) in Ter Apel, which is where the Dutch government carries out its first assessments to decide whether someone will qualify for the legal status of ‘asylum seeker’. If asylum is granted, the people are then spread amongst the various municipalities in the Netherlands to integrate and begin their new life.
‘You have 28 days to leave’
But what happens to migrants that are denied the status of ‘asylum seeker’? “You have 28 days to leave, and you have to organise your own departure” says Helmer Roelofs, the Coordinator for Church and Public Relations of INLIA in Groningen. INLIA is the organisation that runs shelters for some of the undocumented migrants in Groningen. If, after the 28 days and some more bureaucratic steps (including a 12-week ‘departure window’), migrants cannot legally return to their countries of origin, they fall through the gaps. “Then they tell you that that is the end, and you have to leave” says Roelofs, “when they are either leaving from Ter Apel or put on the streets, then they come to us”.
However, not everyone can be accommodated. Undocumented migrants coming from different provinces do not meet the criteria. “So that’s a big problem, many times when people come to us, we have to say no” says Roelofs. Some of the migrants left on the street can find help in other places but others “simply disappear also out of our sights, to where we don’t know, and that’s tragic” says Roelofs.
A small amount of relief during Corona-times
During the Coronavirus outbreak undocumented migrants living on the streets were given accommodation by the national government, in the same way as homeless people that are Dutch nationals. However, as of June 1 new guidelines were published by the government, gradually reducing the possibilities of accessing any form of shelter to zero, despite the Coronavirus not being over yet.
“They are being put on the street again” say Roelofs, “for a couple of months the national government realised ‘we have to do something’”. Now, though, undocumented migrants are being ignored, again.
This is not just in violation of safety measures due to COVID-19 but it also violates a 2014 verdict by the European Committee of Social Rights, which rules that everyone in need should be provided food, clothing and accommodation by the Dutch government, says Roelof. The INLIA, together with the other NGO’s co-operating in a ‘working group on refugees’ under the umbrella of the National Council of Churches, is now trying to appeal to the national government.
Roelofs hopes to see the shelters for undocumented migrant being managed at a more national level in the future.
With the numbers of asylum seekers increasing over summer, he’s also concerned about capacity. INLIA is already talking to the municipality of Groningen about renewing and enlarging their reception infrastructure. “We do foresee that we will have a capacity problem” says Roelofs, “if there are more people are being put on the street from Ter Apel again then in the end they will come up to our doors”.
Some resources around Asylum Seekers and the Netherlands
Margherita Capacci is a journalist located in the City of Groningen.