Sixty chairs are installed on the floor in the waiting room of the IND Immigration Service at Ter Apel. Every refugee who arrives in the Netherlands submits a report here. Wait a few hours until the first meeting with the IND. who are you? How did you end up here?
Last week, the waiting area suddenly became home to a group of unaccompanied minor refugees. They spent the night in a chair. At first there were only a few young men, on Friday there were already fifty. At night from Saturday to Sunday 66. They had nowhere to go. There is no escort in the room, only security. There is a toilet but no shower. Some young people were even trapped here for several nights.
How could that happen?
An increasing number of unaccompanied minors (UAMs in the language of asylum) are coming to the Netherlands. Last year there were 2,191, double the year 2020. Half of them are Syrian and about 90% are young people. These young people are the most vulnerable group of refugees. The rule is that they remain as short as possible at the application center at Ter Apel: those under fifteen are placed with a host family, while others go to special youth shelters.
Because the asylum system has faltered, young people are now also detained in Ter Abel. Officially there is room for 55 guys, but in April there were 113 guys, in June 170 and last week 350 guys stayed on site. Stories from staff, internal reports, a fire letter from the Justice and Security Inspectorate, the Health Care and Youth Inspectorate from June, and a report from the Children’s Ombudsman from April show just how dangerous and unsafe the situation is for young people and staff.
Staff say “smells of mold and dirty in here”. No more time to check rooms. Since the dining room was too small for such a large group, the young men had not eaten together for months. They have to heat up their microwave meal themselves. The staff encountered children who had barely eaten for several days. There are seven supervisors during the day, two at night, he told COA. Children who don’t ask for attention run away. There is no education and no daily program. When children’s Ombudsman Margaret Calverbur visited Ter Apel in April, she said: Norwegian Refugee Council: “Professionals tell me they don’t wake the kids up in the morning, because there’s nothing they can do anyway.”
But it’s also unsafe, according to internal reports from last week. COA supervisors provide daily reports of incidents in the field. They describe how “gloomy” and “threatening” the atmosphere is. “Again a busy shift today,” writes one employee, “several incidents of serious impact.” Young people clashed with adults at the site last week. There was an agreement. It could have been stolen. In the camera images, the staff saw how a group of ten adult men came to speak with a number of young men, and security had to intervene. Another young man injured himself in front of others last week. The report says that “blood” was cleaned up in the hallway, “at 11:15 p.m. a care taxi arrived to take him to the hospital.”
I noticed, as one employee wrote, “It is very clear again that many residents are no longer impatient and cannot wait a while to ask their questions. This is causing a lot of irritation.” It got to the point that the staff felt compelled to tear down the information desk early that day. Another employee says to Norwegian Refugee Council Young people are “asking desperate questions”. “They don’t know what will happen to them.”
Not only their reception, but their asylum procedures are also under pressure. In June, the inspection bodies wrote that waiting times at the Immigration Service were increasing, and their interests were no longer represented. The Nidos Foundation, for example, which gives guardianship rights to unaccompanied minors and helps them seek asylum, among other things, can no longer perform its function, according to that report. At that time there were 170 single young men living in Terre Appel. A Nidos spokesperson: “You want to prepare the children for their conversations with the IND, for example, you want to do it in peace. This is now under pressure.”
When an unaccompanied minor obtains an asylum permit, his or her family can in principle come to the Netherlands. In June, the IND wrote that a “significant percentage” of young people come to the Netherlands, because it is believed that family reunification here is easier and faster than in other EU countries.
The new asylum agreement introduced last Friday should in effect delay family reunification, as well as for unaccompanied minors. Family members may not come until a suitable home is available, or after fifteen months have passed.
As long as young people do not have a residence permit, the COA is responsible for receiving them. On Sunday, 125 unaccompanied minors were taken to emergency shelter sites in Doetinchem and Amsterdam. This has never happened before.
There were no more young people sleeping in the waiting room at the IND this week. Guardianship Foundation Nidos says concerns about the group have not gone away. “There is still very little guidance at these emergency reception sites.” Young people are not always separated from adults.
UNICEF also rejects this emergency solution. “Children traveling alone do not belong to these sites,” the NGO wrote in a statement on Tuesday. UNICEF describes this type of care as harmful to children. “The transition to emergency emergency care does not reduce the suffering of these children. It is a short-term solution out of sight of the children’s best interests.”
A version of this article also appeared in the August 31, 2022 newspaper