Lack of asylum centers leads to acute accommodation crisis

COA Dutch centre for asylum seekers

Some 250 municipalities do not have a single reception location for asylum seekers, contributing to a shortage of beds across the country, forcing those fleeing war to sleep on chairs or on the ground.

300 people slept outside the at Ter Apel application center in the rain this week, says the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA). The organisation, which is responsible for providing refugees with ‘livable and safe accommodation,’ has been vocal about the shortage of space for months.

At present, the COA has 109 locations across the country. It can accommodate 28,000 people in its 60 permanent locations and a further 10,000 at 49 temporary locations. Though the number of people in need of accommodation fluctuates, thousands are left without a place to sleep. Officials estimate there is currently a need for a further 5,600 beds.

The backlog is due in part to shortages at the COA, which needs to process incoming refugees, and the Covid-19 pandemic, which shut borders for months, leading to a glut of applications once travel was permitted again.

Creative solutions have been met with pushback from local communities. Villagers living near a hotel in Albergen which has been earmarked as an accommodation centre for 300 refugees have attempted to thwart the government’s plan by buying the building themselves. ‘It’s not right that the minister can just dump this in our back yard,’ Ursula Bekhuis-Groothuis, Tubbergen’s alderman for housing, told NOS.

The Netherlands isn’t the only country facing a shortage of places for refugees. Belgium’s 31,000 places for asylum seekers are also full, forcing some to sleep on the streets.

After the high numbers of 2015 dropped off, many governments reduced the number of available places. With the war in Ukraine sending refugees across Europe, demand has increased. Some 60,000 extra beds were created to accommodate Ukrainian refugees after the invasion in February. All of them are currently full.

The lack of space has led to tensions at centers. Fights broke out between groups separated by fencing at Ter Apel last weekend, forcing the police to intervene. The city of Westerwolde declared the area around the center a security risk area, allowing the police to preventively search people at the center and broaden camera usage.

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