Situation In Dutch Refugee Camps Worsen, As Child Dies In Ter Apel

A three-month-old baby has died in an asylum camp in Ter Apel, the Netherlands, just days after the Dutch Council for Refugees announced it was suing the government over its inhumane treatment of newcomers. Dutch authorities announced the death on August 25, 2022, stating that they would investigate the cause of death, but also examine the living conditions around the camp and the sports halls currently being used in Ter Apel as an emergency shelter for refugees. The camp can house up to 2,000 people and is currently sheltering refugees from Somalia, Syria, Iran, and Turkey. This tragic death has highlighted the dire situation for refugees arriving in the Netherlands, and further strengthened the Dutch Council for Refugees’ concerns over cruel and inhumane treatment.  

Speaking to the press, State Secretary Eric van der Burg stated “A three-month-old baby died last night in the sports hall in Ter Apel. Like everyone, I am deeply shocked by this terrible event.” Van der Linden, from the Dutch Refugee Council, said the Netherlands was not an inhumane country, “but our government has failed these past years.” 

According to the Dutch Council for Refugee’s recent report, the center in Ter Apel is so overcrowded that several hundred asylum seekers have to sleep outside the facility, including pregnant women, children, and people with chronic diseases. Those forced to sleep outside have little or no access to shelter or food. Additionally, Doctors Without Borders has visited the camp and reported finding individuals with skin diseases. They added that sanitation was an issue, as there were “no showers, and toilets are not well maintained.” 

The Council previously threatened on the 1st of July that unless the government acted to resolve and improve conditions for newcomers within three weeks and promise to treat asylum seekers according to the minimum legal requirements, on 1 August, they would file a lawsuit to force a solution to the crisis. They stated that the “situation has since fallen even further below the humanitarian legal limit,” forcing them to sue. The Refugee Council claims that this is not a refugee crisis – there is not an overwhelming number of refugees, but rather, this is an administrative crisis caused by the government through budget cuts and the closure of refugee centers. The case is due to be heard on the 15th of September. The council is demanding that conditions are improved by October 1, including access to clean water, showers, privacy, adequate food, and healthcare. 

Under international law, states have a duty to protect the fundamental rights of all people, regardless of their nationality and/or legal status. In particular, under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), states are required to take adequate measures to provide care and protection to the most vulnerable, such as children, victims of torture, violence or human trafficking, persons with health issues, and others facing vulnerable situations. Those seeking refuge and asylum are often the most vulnerable, after having fled their states due to extreme and unfortunate situations. Many of these asylum seekers in the Ter Apel camp are fleeing from violence, human rights abuses, and trafficking. One individual interviewed by news outlet Reuters in the camp, teenager Munasar Muhidin, fled Somalia after Islamist militants killed most of his family. Further, Muhidin’s brother died trying to get to Europe via boat. It is individuals such as Munasar who, under Article 3 of the ECHR, are vulnerable and must be protected. Additionally, under Article 3, children are classed as extremely vulnerable, meaning states must provide special protection and care to them. This includes putting in place reasonable measures to prevent ill-treatment. Clearly, the death of a three-month-old baby in appalling conditions within an asylum center highlights that the Dutch government is not fulfilling its obligations under the ECHR. 

The Dutch government must recognize and realign itself with its obligations under the ECHR to protect vulnerable individuals living in these camps. It should not take the death of a child and a lawsuit to get the government to provide safe and sanitary temporary shelter for those fleeing violence and persecution. We should remind the Dutch Government that refugee rights are human rights and the situation in Ter Apel must improve before any more lives are lost. 

Cerys Williams