The Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) is collapsing. In Ter Apel, the largest asylum seeker center in the Netherlands, almost every third COA employee has dropped out. This is shown by research NRC and is confirmed by the COA.
Many people also drop out at other COA locations. Absenteeism is now 9 percent throughout the Netherlands – almost twice as high as the national average. Meanwhile, COA is looking for staff: One thousand unfilled positions must be filled by the end of the year, in addition to the more than four thousand people who work for COA.
Almost a year ago, COA raised the alarm in the Ministry of Justice and Security. In October, the COA top wrote in a letter to the ministry that the reception “threatened to fall below human standards”, confirms a spokesman, “for both residents and staff”.
After that, the crisis only worsened. The reception organization is no longer able to fulfill its legal task: to receive asylum seekers in a ‘humanitarian way’, says COA itself. Due to the work under high pressure and the long days, she no longer sees a solution to the situation.
The organization now accommodates 43,000 people, but there must be more: COA must have arranged 51,000 reception places by the end of this year. It is not for Ukrainian refugees: they are received by municipalities. There are even four thousand reception places available for Ukrainians, also because municipalities do not want to receive refugees from other countries in those places.
The problems at COA are not only due to more asylum seekers coming to the Netherlands. Asylum seekers stay for months and sometimes years longer in asylum centers because the Immigration Service IND struggles with large backlogs. If a request is granted, they cannot leave: the municipalities make fewer houses available to asylum seekers than agreed. COA also fails to find new locations for asylum seeker centres.
Against own politics
In addition, the COA underestimated how many minors would apply for asylum on their own. In 2021, there were almost 2,200, more than twice as many as the year before. In order to take care of everyone, young people today are cared for between adults before their eighteenth birthday. It goes against their own policy because young people are extra vulnerable to exploitation. But according to a spokesman, it was “the only option” to “continue to offer a place to live” for the youngest group of unaccompanied minor refugees.
According to the spokesperson, in order to receive all young people according to the collective agreement, COA has had to open “ten extra locations” in the past five weeks. “Even in light of the lack of staff, it’s not realistic.”
According to experts, the COA does not comply with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. It states that European member states must offer and protect human dignity, including asylum seekers. Asylum seekers have the right to housing, clothing and food or financial compensation. “If you let people sleep on a chair or on the floor, you don’t comply,” says Karen Geertsema, lecturer in migration law at Radboud University.
In early July, Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland announced that it would go to court if the government and COA did not improve the situation in asylum seeker centers by August 1. Refugee Work holds the central government and COA responsible “for the harmful and inhumane conditions of asylum reception”.
A 2019 survey of 2,800 COA employees found that nearly half of the staff had been verbally abused, intimidated or threatened by a resident multiple times in the past two years. More than a quarter of those surveyed indicated that they had been treated inappropriately by a colleague.
Reception cruise ships p. 10 Read more about the crisis at COA in NRC Weekend
A version of this article also appeared in the newspaper on 29 July 2022