At the end of 2000, the Netherlands hosted more than 29,400 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 17,936 asylum seekers awaiting first-instance decisions on their asylum applications, 1,808 persons granted asylum during the year, 4,791 individuals issued residence permits on humanitarian grounds, 3,127 persons under temporary protection, and an estimated 1,800 Kosovo Albanian refugees who had applied for asylum following the revocation of their temporary protected status.
Some 43,895 asylum seekers filed first-time asylum applications during 2000, an 11.7 percent increase from 1999. The largest number of first-time asylum seekers came from Afghanistan (5,055), Yugoslavia (3,850), and Iraq (2,773).
Dutch authorities issued merits decisions on 24,632 applications during 2000, granting political asylum to 1,808 persons, a 7.3 percent approval rate. They also dismissed 35,384 cases as manifestly unfounded.
An additional 4,791 persons, or 19.5 percent of the applicants whose cases were decided on the merits, received residence permits on humanitarian grounds, while another 3,127 (12.7 percent) received temporary protection (conditional residence permits). The Netherlands denied refugee or subsidiary status to 14,906 persons who received merits evaluations of their claims.
The asylum process in 2000 was governed by the Aliens Act of 1965, which was extensively revised in 1994. In 2001, the Aliens Act will be replaced by a new law (see below, Changes in the Asylum Procedure.) The Ministry of Justice was responsible for asylum determinations. Asylum seekers were required to lodge their claims at one of four registration centers, which screened the applications for admissibility within 48 working hours and referred admissible claims to the Relief and Investigation Center. Legislation adopted in 1998 increased the threshold of proof required for undocumented asylum seekers.
A second interview, conducted by a Ministry of Justice official, formed the basis for assessing the merits of a claim. Adults could receive one of three statuses. Refugee status was valid indefinitely, and encompassed rights consistent with the UN Refugee Convention. Residence permits awarded on humanitarian grounds were valid for one year, but were usually renewed. A conditional residence permit (temporary protection) was based on conditions in the country of origin, and could be withdrawn when conditions were safe for return. After three years, however, temporary protection beneficiaries could apply for a permanent residence permit.
Unaccompanied minors who did not receive refugee or humanitarian status and whose relatives were untraceable were eligible for a special renewable, one-year residence permit. After three years, they could apply for a permanent permit.
Applicants could appeal a negative admissibility decision only once, to a judge, while the Ministry of Justice reviewed rejected claims. The final appeal on rejected applications was made to a judge. Either the ministry or the court could decide whether the applicant could remain in the Netherlands during the appeal procedures.
Changes in the Asylum Procedure
In November, the Dutch government passed new legislation concerning refugees and asylum seekers, the Aliens Act 2000, scheduled to take effect on April 1, 2001. The new law, intended to shorten and streamline the asylum procedure, will replace the old Aliens Act.
Under the new legislation, authorities will be able to grant only one type of temporary asylum permit, rather than the three types granted under the 1994 law. The permit is granted for up to three years, but can be revoked if the government decides that conditions in the home country have improved sufficiently to allow repatriation. After three years, permit holders may obtain indefinite residence permits.
The new asylum permit confers the same package of benefits and entitlements upon each asylee, in contrast to the varying benefits that accompanied each of the three previous statuses. According to the Dutch government, these variations in status often had the consequence of encouraging extra litigation from refugees who wanted to obtain the status that afforded them the best possible benefits.
The new Aliens Act also streamlines the asylum procedure by abolishing the administrative review process for rejected asylum applications. Instead, appeals will go directly to the court for review, and applicants will be permitted to remain in the Netherlands while their appeals are considered. By way of compensation, an "intention procedure" will be introduced, in which authorities are required to inform an asylum seeker in writing of their intention to deny an asylum application. The authorities must include the reasons for the rejection, and the applicant subsequently has three hours to submit a response, which the authorities take into consideration when making a final decision.
Generally, the authorities must issue a decision on an asylum application within six months. In the case of war refugees, however, the Ministry of Justice can issue a moratorium for up to one year on asylum decisions for a specific group. If the situation in the refugees' home country does not improve within that period, they then become eligible for the three-year status available to other refugees.
The Dutch Refugee Council objected to aspects of the Aliens Act 2000, pointing out that applicants who previously might have qualified for permanent refugee status are now eligible only for the less-secure, three-year status.
As elsewhere in the European Union (EU), the Netherlands took increasingly restrictive measures against rejected asylum seekers during 2000. In February, a new measure came into effect that requires rejected asylum seekers to leave their reception center 28 days after being notified of a first-instance asylum application denial, even if they have filed an appeal and are awaiting the outcome of the appeal.
In January, the Dutch airline, KLM, signed an agreement with the minister of justice that would prevent the transport of aliens without valid documentation to the Netherlands. Under the agreement, KLM has three years to devise an "airtight" system for screening out aliens who lack identity papers and travel documents. In 1997, the transport of passengers without valid travel documents became a violation of the Aliens Act. According to the Ministry of Justice, more than half of all aliens without documentation in the Netherlands arrive via KLM; of these, 60 to 70 percent apply for asylum.
Reception and Integration
Most asylum seekers remain in collective centers throughout the asylum process. Repeat applicants are not offered accommodation; nor are asylum seekers whose cases are assessed to be the responsibility of another state that is party to the Dublin Convention. The government makes exceptions for pressing humanitarian circumstances or if the Dublin referral claim is late.
At the end of 2000, 66,800 persons lived in reception centers, while 11,400 lived in alternative housing. According to the government, the occupancy rate at the centers was 97 percent.
Court and Government Decisions
On January 14, the Dutch government decided that rejected Afghan asylum seekers could not be forcibly repatriated because of unsafe conditions in Afghanistan. The authorities also halted expulsions of rejected asylum seekers to Sierra Leone in June, concluding that the civil war there made it too dangerous for repatriation.
The Netherlands continued its policy of deporting Kurdish asylum seekers to Turkey in 2000, despite the suspicious death in 1999 of a Kurdish asylum seeker following his forcible repatriation. The Netherlands had temporarily suspended such deportations in July 1999, resuming them again in December. An effort by some members of Parliament in July 2000 to reinstate the deportation suspension was rejected.
The government announced in February that it would grant humanitarian status to certain categories of survivors from the 1995 massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica, Bosnia. Dutch peacekeeping troops were present in Srebrenica when Bosnian Serb forces overran the "safe haven," resulting in the deaths of some 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men.
In December, a new regulation entered into force that would allow immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence to obtain an individual residence permit more easily, provided they can substantiate their abuse claim. Under the previous law, which was designed to deter marriages of convenience, foreign women who were divorced from their husbands after fewer than three years of marriage usually lost their right to a residence permit.
Refugees from Yugoslavia
In 2000, the Dutch government revoked the temporary protected status that had been given to the estimated 8,000 Kosovo refugees remaining in the Netherlands at the end of 1999. A number of these then applied for asylum; some 4,000 first-instance claims were filed during the year. Authorities evaluated 5,869 first-instance applications during 2000; of these, 4,720 were dismissed as manifestly unfounded, while 694 were closed. Of the 455 claims evaluated on their merits, 224, or 49.2 percent, were granted asylum, while 158 were granted humanitarian or temporary protected status.
At least 1,976 rejected asylum seekers repatriated during 2000, as well as about 3,000 Kosovars who had been part of the 1999 humanitarian evacuation from Macedonia. At the end of the year, the Dutch government estimated that at least 1,800 Kosovo Albanians whose temporary protected status had been revoked remained in the Netherlands, awaiting the outcome of asylum applications.