Refugees, expert to 31Mag: the safe countries list is political

Translated from Italian (Vittoria Malgioglio)

In 2019, more than 18000 people applied for asylum in the Netherlands. In 2018 that number was more than 20000, but only 36% of applications were ultimately accepted, while The Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) took an average of 10 months to process asylum applications and is understaffed.

Moreover, as the number of refugees in the Netherlands rises, refugee centres are full, warns the refugee resettlement agency COA. But how are asylum applications processed? Trouw and Investico replied to this question in an investigation published in November 2019. The extensively noted documents looked behind the scenes of the Dutch refugee reception system administered by the IND. “We already knew the things in the report, but it’s good that we’re talking about it,” says Jonneke van Wierst, journalist and expert of refugee reception in the Netherlands. With 37 countries listed, the Netherlands has by far the longest safe country waitlist in all of Europe.

Myths of tolerance

For Jonneke, having such a long list is an easy way for the Dutch government to deal with asylum seekers: “This way you don’t have to spend too much time and resources on asylum procedures”. According to her, the support for strict immigration policies has to do with the “myth of the tolerant and generous Netherlands of the ’70s and ’80s.” But also with the fact that “what we [the Dutch] really want is not to give protection to people in need, but to keep people out of our country”. Whether that is true or not, the issue with such a long list is that many are rejected despite being in danger – like activists and LGBTQ individuals.

“A large number of people are not actually asylum seekers, that’s true. But at some point, there is no difference being made anymore”. Regardless of their stories, people are “put in the same huge pot,” and that’s especially true, according to Jonneke, when it comes to Moroccans in the Netherlands. “They end up stuck here because the Moroccan government does not want its own troublemakers back: this is the sort of idea that goes around in politics, in the newspaper, and it is also what people feel.”

Decisions over asylum applications are not taken by judges but, rather, by the IND administrative body: It is IND employees that decide, on a discretionary basis, whether the stories of asylum seekers are true or not and whether people have the right to asylum. Judges only oversee whether the bureaucratic procedures have been followed.

But “the IND gets its instructions directly from the Ministry of Justice, which is part of the government.” The decision, then, is all but objective; actually it can be seen as politically motivated. “The right-wing, liberal agenda has become increasingly tough over time.” Meanwhile, as reception centres face a shortage of nearly ten thousand places in 2020, Investico describes the IND as an organization that “after major cutbacks, is populated with partly inexperienced staff, who often have to make decisions quickly and cling to inadequate information.”


According to the investigation, IND employees “work in a system that is aimed at finding the smallest inconsistencies in asylum stories, so that they can be rejected more quickly.”

In many cases, asylum applications are rejected but the applicants still cannot be sent back to their home country. As a consequence, people end up in the streets. Jonneke has been writing and researching for Amnesty international NL about those who end up roaming around in Amsterdam. “Many of them are actually Dubliners: people that have entered Europe in Italy and that traveled to Holland to apply for asylum”.

The problem with this is that they are supposed to apply in the country where they first arrived. So, from the Netherlands they have to be sent back to Italy. The process takes 18 months: “Many of them don’t want to go back to Italy so badly that they go into hiding for one year and a half.” And this is especially hard for people that have “no housing, no place to stay, nowhere to go, no form of income, no family,” she adds. It emerges that people warn each other that the situation in Italy is “very bad” and that prospects for them are dim.

“The minors are told to make sure to be out of Italy as soon as possible because they will be put in some sort of prison-camps until they are overage.” Between 2016 and 2018, more than 45,000 unaccompanied children arrived in Italy: 5,229 of them fled from the centres where they were hosted and cannot be found.

Whether underage or overage, once the asylum applications are rejected, an increasing number of people are stuck in a limbo between Europe and the home country they fled from. Appeals and reviews can last an unlimited amount of time, and if the home country does not accept repatriations, people end up stuck with nowhere to go but the streets.


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