By MIKE CORDER
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A Dutch court on Thursday ordered the government and its asylum-seeker accommodation agency to significantly improve conditions at overcrowded and unsanitary emergency migrant housing facilities.
The ruling by a civil court in The Hague came in a summary case brought by the Dutch Council for Refugees amid an ongoing crisis in the Netherlands that has forced hundreds of migrants to sleep outdoors in squalid conditions while waiting to register their asylum claims.
“The state … has the obligation to accommodate asylum-seekers in a dignifed manner,” the court said in a statement. It ruled that current conditions in a reception center in the northern Netherlands and other emergency accommodation doesn’t meet basic European standards.
The council’s chairman, Frank Candel, welcomed the decision.
“This is a crystal clear and necessary ruling, but this is not yet a cause for joy,” he said. “It is sad that something as basic as humane reception conditions require a court decision, and we will not rest as long as asylum-seekers have to sleep in a tent, gym or event hall.”
Candel said the group brought the case “with a heavy heart” because some 18,000 asylum-seekers are currently in Dutch accommodation centers in what he called “harmful conditions.” He said the crisis wasn’t the result of a sudden increase in the number of asylum applications, but of years of policy failure.
Conditions outside a center in the northern town of Ter Apel became so bad over the summer, with about 700 people forced to sleep outdoors, that the Dutch branch of Doctors Without Borders sent a team there, the first time the aid agency had deployed in the Netherlands.
The minister in charge of the asylum system, Eric vand der Burg, said in a statement that he shared the concerns raised by the Refugee Council.
“At the moment, we are not offering asylum-seekers what we could in previous years,” he added.
He said that the government was appealing to all Dutch municipalities to help accommodate underage asylum-seekers as soon as possible.