Crisis shelters making asylum seekers sick: Red Cross

The care for asylum seekers is insufficient in most crisis emergency shelters, concluded researchers from the Red Cross, Dokters van de Wereld, and expertise center Pharos. The housing is terrible. There is no privacy, too few toilets and showers, and long waiting times with nothing to do. “The crisis emergency shelter in its current form is making residents sick,” the organizations said. The municipalities and health service GGD share the concerns, but according to the COA, most municipalities have their crisis shelters in order.

In May, about 7,000 asylum seekers lived in crisis emergency shelters. The researchers visited locations consisting of tents, empty office buildings, sports halls, and warehouses. The locations are arranged by municipalities and security regions and are intended for short-term shelter. “In practice, it turns out that people often stay in one location for months without a view of another place to stay.”

The study, which will be presented to parliament on Tuesday, states that infectious diseases like scabies, diarrhea, and respiratory infections are common in these locations where residents live in close proximity to each other. “You have large groups of people with different backgrounds in a small space. And then scabies occurs, but that also happens among students,” is what emerged in conversions with location managers and care providers. Treatment is complicated by the layout of the locations. Sometimes “rooms” are only separated by curtains, which also poses privacy problems.

Residents also suffer from psychological problems, for example, because they experienced war in their country of origin. “There is little to do during the day. People are not allowed to work or even do voluntary work. Many children do not go to school. On top of that is the uncertainty about the asylum procedure,” the researchers summarized. “Altogether, this leads to serious health risks for the residents of crisis emergency shelters.”
The current form of crisis emergency shelters doesn’t only make residents sick. It is also “burdensome for professionals, who feel that they are fighting a losing battle.”

The researchers spoke to over 130 residents at nine crisis emergency shelters, dozens of healthcare providers, 13 location managers, and 11 policymakers. In the report, they argue for improvement and create clarity about the minimum requirements the shelter must meet. This is not the first alarm bell around these shelters.

VNG and GGD share the concerns

The Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG) shares concerns about the conditions in which asylum seekers stay in emergency reception locations. “Nobody wants to continue like this,” a spokesperson said in response to the investigation.

“We have to get rid of emergency shelters and create space in regular asylum shelters as soon as possible,” the VNG said. “Municipalities are doing their utmost to achieve this.” The association advocates for a more structural asylum policy, including the distribution law that would fairly distribute asylum seekers across the country. “The shelter must fit the local scale, so small-scale shelter is a must.”

If it is up to the VNG, special groups of asylum seekers should go to those small-scale shelters. “Especially for unaccompanied children and refugees, safe reception and guidance is the highest priority.”

The association also wants three registration facilities in addition to the current one in Ter Apel. “So that the pressure on that one facility in Groningen disappears.”

The GGD health services want extra attention for children in emergency shelters. They are vulnerable and do not belong there, said GGD GHOR Nederland, the umbrella organization for the regional health services.

The organization receives signals from the PGA (Public Health Care for Aslym Seekers) that children face many problems. They struggle with sleeping, disruption of their day/night rhythm, psychological complaints, and nutritional issues, with unhealthy food leading to the risk of malnutrition. “Above all, the crisis emergency shelters are not a safe environment for children.”

GGD GHOR Nederland recognizes the findings in the report and once again calls on all parties involved to ensure the proper reception of asylum seekers. The umbrella organization has already sounded the alarm to draw attention to the bottlenecks in medical care in emergency shelters. “For example, we identified the shortage of appropriate psychological help and the problems of getting and keeping a good picture of asylum seekers’ children in youth healthcare.” According to the GGDs, the latter is difficult if children move a lot, something that regularly happens in crisis shelters.

COA response

The vast majority of municipalities have properly organized care at crisis emergency reception for asylum seekers, according to the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA). According to the COA, this is up to the municipalities. The organization said that the State Secretary had instructed them to ensure sufficient medical care in the crisis emergency shelters, and some municipalities arrange the care themselves. “The actual implementation of care is the responsibility of the municipality itself.” The municipality must report if a healthcare provider offers insufficient medical care, the COA said. “The COA will then enter into discussions with the relevant healthcare provider.”

Wouter Kolf, chairman of the Security Council, the council of mayors that head the 25 security regions in the Netherlands, also pointed to the municipalities. “It is primarily up to each municipality involved to respond to this itself. Every shelter and every situation is different,” said Kolff. “Of course, as the Security Council, we have indicated several times that crisis emergency shelter is very basic and that with these numbers, we are stuck when it comes to good care and education. In that respect, this report endorses our position.”

Reporting by ANP

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