United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1997 - Netherlands, 1 January 1997, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a8bb58.html [accessed 25 May 2013]
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Some 20,511 asylum seekers filed applications in the Netherlands during the first 11 months of 1996. Assuming a similar rate of new claims in December, the annual total would be about 22,375 persons, a 24 percent decrease from 1995 and a 57.5 percent drop from the 52,576 claimants who filed in 1994. During the first six months of 1996, the largest number of applicants came from Iraq (14.1 percent), followed by Afghanistan (10.4 percent), Somalia (8.5 percent), Iran (7 percent), Sri Lanka (6.8 percent), and Bosnia (5.2 percent). The significant decrease in asylum applications since 1994 is attributable to a series of restrictive measures. These include: a new asylum procedure, effective since 1994, under which an asylum seeker's admissibility to the normal asylum procedure is decided within 24 hours; pre-boarding checks by Dutch immigration officials at airports in countries from which many asylum seekers travel to the Netherlands; and strict implementation of the Schengen Agreement, whereby asylum seekers who traveled through other member states before arriving in the Netherlands are deemed inadmissible to the asylum procedure. During the first half of 1996, the Netherlands decided the cases of 31,730 applicants, granting refugee status to some 2,983 persons, 8.6 percent of the caseload, down from 13.9 percent for all of 1995. An additional 3,200 persons (9.2 percent) received permits to stay on humanitarian grounds, and 3,371 persons (9.7 percent) received temporary asylum (conditional permits to stay). A total of 22,176 persons were denied refugee or other status during the first half of 1996. Asylum Procedure From late 1993 through early 1995, the Netherlands enacted a series of restrictive asylum reforms in amendments to its Aliens Act. Beginning on January 1, 1994, the government introduced measures to shorten the asylum procedure from 15 to seven months, 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. On March 26, 1995, the Netherlands implemented the Schengen Agreement, a multilateral accord that calls for an asylum seeker's return to the member state deemed responsible for examining the asylum request. Under the amended Aliens Act, asylum seekers must register with the authorities immediately upon arrival. Since October 15, 1994, persons arriving by land were to report to one of two reception centers, Rijsbergen, on the Belgian border, or Zevenaar, on the German border, where Immigration and Naturalization Department (IND) officials determine their admissibility to the procedure. During 1994 and the first 11 months of 1995, asylum seekers arriving by air were not subject to the accelerated screening process, but were simply admitted to the normal procedure. But following a sharp increase in airport arrivals, on November 20, 1995, the government began to direct asylum seekers arriving at Schiphol airport to the reception centers in Rijsbergen and Zevenaar. A third reception center at Schiphol airport opened in early 1996, and plans for building five more reception centers were announced later in August. Persons whose cases are determined to be manifestly unfounded or inadmissible during their 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. IND rejected the claims of 23 percent of the 10,025 asylum seekers who arrived during the first six months of 1996 in the accelerated procedure, up from 19 percent for the same period the previous year. A majority of the persons deemed inadmissible in the accelerated procedure were rejected on the grounds that other member states of the Schengen Agreement were responsible for reviewing their asylum applications, the Dutch Refugee Council reported in the spring of 1996. Persons whose claims are judged to be admissible in the 24-hour screening 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 time it takes to issue first-instance decisions varies from weeks to several months. Despite efforts to shorten the time period for adjudicating cases, it still took 11 months on average to process an application, inclusive of the appeals process, as of April 1996. At that time, approximately 9,000 asylum seekers awaited first-instance decisions and a considerably larger backlog of about 30,000 applicants remained in the appeals process. Procedure Criticized In a December 9, 1996 report, the Dutch Refugee Council expressed its concern over the effects of the long waiting period for some asylum seekers, who live in large reception centers under strict conditions with little privacy during the procedure. The growing number of these long-term residents has heightened tensions and led to acts of despair, including several suicides, according to the Dutch Refugee Council. The determination procedure itself did not escape criticism during 1996. An investigation into a range of asylum seekers' complaints resulted in a December 18 national ombudsman report that was particularly critical of IND staff. The ombudsman's scrutiny focused on the interview process, finding that asylum seekers were not always informed of the purpose of the hearing or given the chance to properly relate their persecution claim. The report also noted that communication between interviewers and officials responsible for issuing decisions on cases was sometimes lacking. Appeals Process Persons recognized as 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. In September 1996, the Dutch government backed off its plan announced the previous December to reinstitute a limited right to a second appeal to the highest administrative court (the Raad van State). The right to a second appealhad been abolished as part of the restrictive asylum changes introduced on January 1, 1994. The Raad van State recommended in April 1995 that it return to reviewing a limited number of asylum cases. Despite its previous agreement with this recommendation, the government decided in September 1996 to postpone a decision on the issue of second appeal possibilities for asylum seekers until sometime in 1997. Certain members of the coalition government reportedly were fearful that restoration of a second appeal right would exacerbate pressure caused by an already substantial backlog of appeal cases under review in lower courts. Negative decisions in the normal procedure may also be challenged with the Ministry of Justice, which reviews the case. If the review is negative, an appeal to the court still may be lodged. Lawyers assisting asylum seekers denied in the accelerated procedure may ask the Ministry of Justice to review cases in which they feel that serious mistakes were made. When such objections are raised, the applicant generally is admitted to the normal procedure. Asylum seekers denied refugee status still may be eligible for permits to stay on humanitarian grounds or 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. Should the situation in the country of origin change prior to a person's adjusting to permanent residence, the status may not be renewed and deportation may occur. Deportation As of March 1996, the Netherlands maintained a ban on deporting rejected asylum seekers to Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Liberia (except for persons with relatives in Monrovia), some parts of Somalia, and Sierra Leone (except for persons with relatives in Freetown). During 1996, however, the Dutch government remained determined to deport rejected asylum seekers to Iran, certain areas of Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Zaire policies that grew increasingly controversial as the year progressed. On February 15, 1996, the Dutch authorities returned the first Iranian to Iran since a November 1995 ruling issued by the Aliens Court in the Hague that found that the general situation in Iran does not preclude the repatriation of rejected Iranian asylum seekers. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed with the court's assessment on Iran in a confidential report issued in May 1996, paving the way for more repatriations during the year. But the government's policy incited sharp protest, including acts of desperation, from a number of Iranian asylum seekers in the Netherlands who faced the possibility of forced return home. At least two Iranians committed suicide, and several others unsuccessfully attempted suicide in the spring and summer of 1996. The Dutch government's position on Iran also drew criticism from humanitarian organizations during the year, including USCR. In a June 24, 1996 letter to the state secretary of justice, USCR urged the Dutch government to "exercise utmost care in assessing Iranian asylum cases," noting Iran's poor human rights record. The high recognition rates of Iranian nationals in refugee status determination procedures around the world "hardly suggests that Iran should be considered safe," USCR pointed out. The Dutch Ministry of Justice responded in a letter dated July 15 saying that "a general lack of respect for human rights in the country of origin does not intrinsically justify asylum in the Netherlands. These rules apply to all asylum seekers, including Iranians." In July 1996, the Dutch government suspended efforts to deport rejected Somali asylum seekers following two failed repatriation attempts in June. A group of rejected Somalis, who were to have been repatriated via Dubai, were returned to the Netherlands after the Dubai authorities refused to permit their transfer to a connecting flight to northern Somalia when it became evident that the repatriation was involuntary. Shortly afterwards, officials from the Dutch Ministry of Justice were robbed at gunpoint at the airport of Garbarhare in southeastern Somalia while escorting two rejected asylum seekers home. On September 3, in a ruling critical of government policy regarding forced Somali repatriations, the Aliens Court in Zwolle ruled to suspend the deportation of three rejected Somali asylum seekers on the grounds that their safety could not be guaranteed unless it was possible for their extended family to receive them. On March 14, 1996, the Aliens Court in the Hague suspended the deportations of four rejected Sri Lankan asylum seekers in a ruling critical of government policy regarding forced repatriation to Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, the government announced in July that it would continue to repatriate rejected Sri Lankan asylum seekers. Persons from conflict-ridden areas could find protection in other parts of Sri Lanka firmly under government control, the Dutch government said. Safe Third Country and Schengen In January 1995, the Netherlands enacted a law that calls for the return of asylum seekers who traveled through a "safe third country" on their way to the Netherlands. All 15 European Union member states, plus the Czech Republic, Iceland, Norway, and Poland, are considered to be safe third countries. Asylum seekers who fall within the meaning of the law are considered inadmissible to the asylum procedure. However, the safe third country rule has been applied in very few cases because it has largely been superseded by the Schengen Agreement, which entered into force on March 26, 1995. Similar to the safe third country concept, the Schengen Agreement calls for an asylum seeker's return to the member state deemed responsible for examining his or her asylum request. Although no up-to-date statistics were available, the number of persons deemed inadmissible to the Dutch asylum procedure on Schengen grounds reportedly rose during 1996. The Dutch Refugee Council noted some of the adverse humanitarian consequences of the Schengen Agreement's implementation in an October 1996 report. Families were split up because different family members used different travel routes to reach the Netherlands. 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 considered Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Ghana, and Senegal to be "safe" in the spring of 1996. Under the 1994 law, applicants arriving from these countries can rebut the presumption that the country's label as "persecution free" does not apply to them as individuals. The cases of applicants who do not meet this standard may be rejected as manifestly unfounded in the initial 24 hour screening procedure. Bosnians At the end of 1996, UNHCR reported that about 17,500 of some 25,000 Bosnian refugees in the Netherlands had received permanent residence permits to remain in the country and therefore would not be subject to any future compulsory repatriation plans. About 7,500 Bosnians remained with temporary asylum. During 1996, the Netherlands pledged to follow UNHCR's recommendations in planning for the repatriation of Bosnian temporary asylees, which ruled out forced returns. During the year, the government permitted individual Bosnians to travel home for up to one month to assess repatriation possibilities without losing their status in the Netherlands.