United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Netherlands, 1 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8b610.html [accessed 30 January 2015]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
At the end of 1997, the Netherlands hosted about 64,200 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included about 34,000 asylum seekers pending a first-instance decision on their cases, 8,806 individuals granted asylum and 500 refugees who resettled in the Netherlands during the year, 7,348 granted residence permits on humanitarian grounds, 7,400 granted temporary asylum, and about 6,200 Bosnian refugees with no durable solution. Some 34,443 persons applied for asylum in the Netherlands during 1997, a 51 percent increase from the 22,857 who applied in 1996. During 1997, the largest number of asylum seekers came from Iraq (9,641), followed by Afghanistan (5,920), Bosnia (1,968), Yugoslavia (1,652), Sri Lanka (1,497), Somalia (1,280), Iran (1,253), China (1,158), Turkey (1,135), and Sudan (678). Dutch authorities issued decisions on 84,071 applications during 1997, granting refugee status to 8,806 applicants, 10.5 percent of the caseload. An additional 7,384 persons (8.8 percent) received permits to stay on humanitarian grounds, and 7,400 (8.8 percent) received temporary asylum (conditional permits to stay). During 1997, the Netherlands denied refugee or other status to 51,686 persons. New Restrictions Responding to the significant increase in asylum applications during 1997, the Dutch government announced a new round of restrictive measures in November aimed at stemming the flow of asylum seekers into the Netherlands. The measures included tougher enforcement of carrier sanctions on airlines and other companies transporting undocumented foreigners to the Netherlands. They increased staffing of Dutch immigration officers in refugee-producing countries and countries of transit (beginning with Turkey). They enhanced surveillance on Dutch land borders (particularly with Germany), and established a special task force to combat alien smuggling. They increased exchange of asylum seekers' fingerprints with other EU countries, and imposed stricter family reunification criteria for recognized refugees. The Dutch Ministry of Justice also recommended a revision of the aliens law to make it easier to reject the claims of improperly documented asylum seekers as manifestly unfounded. At present, in order to issue a denial, the Dutch authorities must demonstrate that an asylum seeker willfully destroyed his or her travel documents. The proposed legislative revision would shift the burden of proof from the authorities to asylum seekers, requiring them to convince the authorities that they did not purposefully destroy their travel papers. During 1997, some 70 percent of asylum-seeker arrivals in the Netherlands reportedly had no travel documents. An additional 24 percent had forged documents. Asylum Procedure The asylum regulations and proposals announced in 1997 capped a series of restrictive asylum amendments to the Dutch aliens act enacted between late 1993 and early 1995. On January 1, 1994, the government introduced measures to shorten the asylum procedure, identify and expeditiously remove persons filing manifestly unfounded and otherwise inadmissible claims, limit appeals of negative decisions, impose fines on airlines that carry passengers with improper travel documents, and establish a protection mechanism for victims of civil war. The Dutch parliament adopted "safe country of origin" and "safe third country" laws in December 1994 and January 1995, respectively. Under the amended aliens act, asylum seekers must register with the authorities immediately upon arrival. Persons arriving by land are to report to one of two reception centers, Rijsbergen, on the Belgian border, or Zevenaar, on the German border, where Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) officials determine their admissibility to the procedure. Following a sharp increase in airport arrivals, the Dutch authorities established a third reception center at Schipol airport in January 1996, where IND officials also screen asylum seekers for admissibility. Persons whose cases are determined to be manifestly unfounded or inadmissible during the initial interview receive a second interview the same day in which they may rebut the negative decision. IND must issue a final decision on admissibility within 24 hours. Although no figures were available for 1997, in past years, IND on average deemed 20 percent of all asylum applications to be manifestly unfounded or inadmissible to the normal asylum procedure. Most inadmissible cases have been rejected on the grounds that other Schengen or Dublin member states were responsible for reviewing the asylum applications (see below). Persons whose cases are judged to be admissible in the 24-hour screening procedure enter the normal determination procedure and are transferred to a separate investigation reception center, where a Ministry of Justice liaison officer reviews their case. The substantial increase in asylum applications during 1997 increased the backlog of undecided cases and has led to delays in the adjudication of individual cases. Recognized refugees receive residence permits, permission to work, language training in Dutch, and eligibility for housing and social assistance. Rejected claimants may appeal negative decisions to the aliens division of the Hague District Court, or to one of its subsidiary divisions in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Den Bosch, or Zwolle. Applicants rejected in the accelerated procedure also have the right to a court appeal but must simultaneously request suspension of their deportation pending a preliminary ruling. The right to a second appeal to the highest administrative court (Raad van State) was abolished in 1994. Asylum seekers may challenge negative decisions in the normal procedure with the Ministry of Justice, which reviews the case. If the review is negative, the applicant may still lodge an appeal with the court. Lawyers assisting asylum seekers denied in the accelerated procedure may ask the Ministry of Justice to review cases if they allege that decision was seriously flawed. When such objections are raised, the applicant generally is admitted to the normal procedure. Asylum seekers denied refugee status may still be eligible for permits to stay on humanitarian grounds or for temporary asylum. Both humanitarian-status and temporary-asylum recipients receive one-year renewable residence permits and may apply for permanent residence after three years. Temporary asylum is more conditional than humanitarian status, however. If conditions should change in the country of origin prior to a person's adjustment to permanent residence, the status may not be renewed and deportation may occur. Deportation In May, the Hague District Court struck down a government decision to end temporary protection and proceed with the deportation of northern Sudanese. In August, the Aliens Court in Haarlem decided to reconsider the cases and suspend the deportations of several rejected ethnic Albanian asylum seekers from the Yugoslav province of Kosovo. The decision followed reports that, despite an amnesty law, the Yugoslav authorities were arresting Kosovo Albanian draft evaders who had been repatriated from various European countries. The amnesty law had served as the basis for the Dutch government's declaring Kosovo as "safe" for returning rejected asylum seekers, including draft evaders. Based on UNHCR reports that rejected Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka deported from other European countries were safely living in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, the Dutch government increased its efforts to deport rejected Sri Lankan asylum seekers during 1997. In September, the Netherlands concluded a readmission agreement with Sri Lanka to facilitate the repatriation process. The agreement provides for the repatriation of 350 Sri Lankans from the Netherlands during the year, after which the Dutch and Sri Lankan governments will review the agreement. On October 30, the Dutch government suspended the deportation of rejected Iranian asylum seekers pending an assessment of the safety conditions in Iran for returnees whom the Netherlands had already repatriated. Several days before the suspension announcement, representatives of the Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs disclosed to the parliament that the Dutch embassy in Tehran had stopped monitoring the situation of Iranian returnees in January 1997. Parliamentary approval of the Dutch policy of repatriating rejected Iranian asylum seekers had, in part, been based on the assumption that the Dutch embassy in Tehran was in contact with Iranian returnees from the Netherlands and had no incidents of persecution to report. During the two months prior to the announced suspension of deportations to Iran, Iranian asylum seekers in the Netherlands held sit ins and hunger strikes to protest the Dutch policy. In an October 7 letter, USCR urged the Dutch government to exercise utmost caution in the treatment of rejected Iranian asylum seekers, given the lack of independent human rights organizations or a legal tradition that accords adequate due process rights to those accused of wrong-doing. Dublin and Schengen On June 13, the Netherlands ratified the Dublin Convention, a European Union (EU) agreement that establishes a mechanism for determining the EU member state responsible for reviewing an asylum claim. When the Dublin Convention became effective in September, it replaced the asylum provisions of the Schengen Convention, another multilateral accord in force in a subset of EU member states since March 1995. Similar to Schengen, the Dublin Convention generally holds that the member state that permits an asylum seeker entry, or the first member state of arrival in the event of illegal entry, is responsible for reviewing the asylum application. Other provisions of the Schengen Conventionincluding a common visa policy, common border-control standards, and an integrated data base on foreigners entering member countriesremained effective after the Dublin Convention entered into force. Cooperation with other EU and Schengen partners figured prominently into the Dutch government's plans, announced in November, for reducing the flow of asylum seekersin particular Iraqi, Afghan, and Turkish nationalsinto the Netherlands. The Dutch government pressed for an increased exchange of finger prints with other EU countries to help determine the country responsible for deciding the cases of asylum seekers arriving in the Netherlands by land. The government also called for greater cooperation with the German and Belgian police on alien smuggling. Safe Third Country The Netherlands also enacted a "safe third country" law in January 1995. The Dutch government considers all 15 EU member states, plus the Czech Republic, Iceland, Norway, and Poland, to be safe third countries. Asylum seekers who fall within the meaning of the law are considered inadmissible to the asylum procedure. However, authorities rarely apply the safe third country law because the Schengen and Dublin Conventions have largely superseded it. Safe Country of Origin In December 1994, the Netherlands adopted a law on asylum seekers arriving from "safe countries of origin." In addition to EU member states, the Dutch government considers Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Ghana, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Senegal, and Slovakia to be "safe." Under the 1994 law, applicants arriving from these countries can rebut the presumption that the country's "persecution free" label does not apply to them as individuals. Dutch officials may reject as manifestly unfounded the cases of applicants who do not meet this standard in the initial 24-hour screening procedure.