Children’s Ombudsman Margrite Kalverboer has criticised conditions at the Ter Apel asylum application center, saying neglect, lack of help and attention are leading to serious mental problems.
The Ter Apel reception center houses 113 child asylum seekers who arrived in the country unaccompanied by an adult. However, the center, Kalverboer found out, does not have an efficient system in place to look after those children who are frequently unable to care for themselves. “There’s no education, no activities, no help, nothing. They get to eat – and that’s it. Supervisors told me that they don’t even wake the children up in the morning anymore, because there is nothing for them to do anyway,” the ombudsman told the NRC Handelsblad.
The neglect traumatizes the children and leads to serious mental health problems, including anxiety, depression and disorientation. “A 16-year-old boy, who fled Afghanistan alone, has been there for three weeks now,” Kalverboer says. “All alone, suffering from stress. He toldm me that he mainly misses his telephone and watch. Because when he lies awake at night, he has no idea what time it is. He was totally disoriented.”
Two 17-year-old girls, who had fled Syria without their parents, told the ombudsman how lonely and desperate they were feeling. “They had been sitting there doing nothing for weeks, not knowing when they would finally be taken care of somewhere. These are traumatized children, you cannot just leave them to their fate,” Kalverboer stresses.
The conditions in the Ter Apel center shocked Groningen mayor Koen Schuiling, too. Schuiling, who visited the camp at the beginning of April, described the asylum seekers’ situation as “disturbing”, adding that the institution’s administration should be ashamed of that.
According to Kalverboer, the authorities are aware of the problem. “That’s what I find so astonishing about this,” she says. “When I discuss the matter with the Ministry of Justice and Security, they say: we already know this, we don’t think it’s right, either. The IND and COA also recognize and regret the problem. But nobody does anything.”
The Children’s Ombudsman proposes two solutions. The stay in Ter Apel should not exceed the statutory term of six days. If that is impossible to implement, the Ter Apel center should be considerably expanded, offering minors daytime activities, training and assistance. “Because the current policy is driving these children crazy,” Kalverboer warns.