Dutch aid agencies tended Thursday to hundreds of migrants camped in sweltering heat outside an overcrowded center for asylum-seekers as Dutch authorities investigated the death of a baby in the center a day earlier.
The Dutch arm of Doctors Without Borders deployed medics to the tiny village of Ter Apel in the northeastern Netherlands to give first aid and other assistance. A mobile hospital was expected to arrive Friday, the organization’s national director, Judith Sargentini, said. It is the first time the humanitarian group was called in to assist with a Dutch crisis.
For two nights running, some 700 people have slept outdoors because the asylum reception center with an official capacity of 2,000 does not have space for them and the Dutch government is scrambling to find emergency accommodation.
With temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday, migrants lay listlessly on blankets under four canvas shades held up by wooden poles. Some sheltered in the shadow of a Red Cross station which had Wi-Fi and power for charging their phones.
Others squabbled as they tried to board a bus to a nearby town. Inside a tent, a medic checked people who wanted care. Blue plastic children’s paddling pools were set up as washing stations, and a small row of portable toilets stood near the covered areas.
Sargentini compared the situation to overcrowded migrant camps in Greece.
“These are 700 people sleeping rough: no showers, very bad facilities, no health care from the institutions,” Sargentini told The Associated Press. “And it might not be as crowded as on the Greek isles, but if you come here after a long journey as a refugee, you think you find safety, but you find neglect. And you sleep like this. Even if you are healthy, you’ll get sick here.”
She said two people were hospitalized Thursday — a man who had a heart attack and another who did not have medication for his diabetes.
State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Eric van der Burg told reporters he was “deeply shocked” by the death of the 3-month-old baby. The cause of death was under investigation, he said.
Mohammad Ali, a 34-year-old Syrian who crisscrossed Europe to reach the Netherlands and has been in Ter Apel for about a month, said he was shocked at the conditions there.
“I’m surprised from the bad conditions here because I didn’t hear about it,” he said.
A number of factors have created the crisis in Ter Apel. It can take months or more to process the asylum applications of migrants arriving from so-called “safe countries” who ultimately are not entitled to stay. A housing crisis means refugees often have nowhere to go once they have been granted a residency permit and therefore stay on at asylum-seeker centers.
While many Dutch towns and cities offered places for Ukrainians who fled the war in their country, the welcome mat has worn thin for asylum-seekers from other countries. The majority of people arriving in Ter Apel are Syrians fleeing their nation’s grinding civil war.
“There’s about 60,000 Ukrainians in municipalities that are being housed there, and there you can see it was possible. But when it comes to non-Ukrainian refugees — people here are mostly from Syria, from Turkey, Afghanistan — municipalities still look the other way,” said Sander Schaap of refugee aid group VluchtelingenWerk.
In a sign of growing anger at the situation among residents, a group protested Thursday night near the asylum-seeker center, carrying banners that said “Real Refugees OK, Troublemakers Go Away” and “Enough of the Nuisance.”
The situation in Dutch asylum-seeker centers has gotten so bad that VluchtelingenWerk last week took the government and its asylum agency to court to produce improvements. Nobody from the agency was available for comment Thursday.
Sargentini wants to see change even sooner, but is not optimistic.
“If we can leave tomorrow because of the government taking its responsibility, we will,” she said. “But currently, together with the Red Cross, we are here to give that needed help.”