Kids of rejected asylum seekers unsafe in Dutch shelters; Hard to help them, Min. says

The children of asylum seekers who have exhausted all legal remedies are not safe enough and have too few opportunities to develop in the Netherlands. These children grow up in an “unsafe environment,” the Education Inspectorate said in a critical report on family shelters. Minister Dennis Wiersma (Education) and State Secretary Eric van der Burg (Asylum) recognize that these children’s situation “is worrying and deserves attention.” But they don’t immediately see a solution for all their problems.

According to the Inspectorate, the family shelters are “noisy and small,” so children sleep poorly, which “impedes their ability to learn well.” They also sometimes have no education for a long time. The Inspectorate called on Wiersma to “put the interests of these children more central.” The Netherlands has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child and is therefore responsible for guaranteeing their safety and education, the Inspectorate said.

The children of rejected asylum seekers still in the Netherlands, for example, because their parents are fighting deportation or whose country of origin won’t take them in, must also get the chance of “uninterrupted development.” In practice, however, that often doesn’t happen. Education is difficult to arrange due to the many forced relocations these people face, the Inspectorate said. It is “no exception” for 9 and 10-year-olds to move five, six, or seven times.

“This has a negative impact on the continuous development of children and young people. It is very serious that moving often leads to a shorter or longer interruption of education,” the Inspectorate wrote. “Because relocations often take place unprepared and with little notice, a smooth transfer is more difficult. In addition, there are often waiting lists in newcomer education.”

Although it concerns people who won’t get a residency permit for the Netherlands, in practice, the families often stay in Dutch shelters for a long time. Of the families in family locations in 2019, 60 percent of the people who have exhausted all legal remedies had been in the Netherlands for over three years, and a third for more than five years. “In all likelihood, the length of stay has only increased since then, as asylum procedures are taking much longer than in 2019,” the Inspectorate added.

“Short stay” should, therefore, not be the starting point for family locations, the Inspectorate said. “Given the long length of stay, access to education, guaranteeing security, and uninterrupted development are all the more important.”

The Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) endorses “many of the observations and concerns. However, the authority cannot agree with the “unsafe” qualification. The situation does deserve attention, according to the COA, which says it is working hard to limit relocations and improve contacts with schools.

Government response

The responsible Cabinet members – Wiersma of Education and Van der Burg of Asylum – called it “very undesirable” that young children are moved up to seven times and don’t have access to education for long periods. Due to the many temporary emergency locations for asylum seekers, children often have to move. This sometimes happens when a new step in the asylum procedure is completed. But according to Wiersma and Van der Burg, some moving moments can be prevented. The COA is working on this. But they added: “In the current reception crisis, limiting relocation movements remain the ambition, but cannot properly be implemented in practice.”

The Cabinet members want schools to hand over their work better if children have to move. According to them, this is only possible if a school is arranged before the child moves. That is not always possible. Van der Burg and Wiersma say that due to the problems surrounding asylum reception, it is sometimes difficult enough to ensure that people get “a bed and a roof over their heads.”

The Inspectorate called on the government to pay more attention to the interests of these children. But according to the Cabinet members, there are also other interests they must take into account. “In this case, that is, for example, the interest of the State in realizing the return of persons who have no right to stay in the Netherlands.” Wiersma and Van der Burg said they’ve been making efforts for some time to pay “as much attention as possible” to the rights of the child.

Reporting by ANP

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