Refugee status holders living in hotels in various municipalities

The refugee crisis continues to have an intense impact on Dutch national politics, after the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) announced it will begin housing asylum seekers in hotels without the explicit permission of the municipalities in which these are located.

The asylum seekers who will be housed temporarily in hostels are those classified as being ‘status holders’. A status holder is someone who has been granted asylum and is legally allowed to claim residency in the Netherlands. Once someone has been granted residency status, the COA, in conjunction with local municipalities, aims to find suitable housing within 14 weeks. However, this has become an increasingly impossible target for the COA and relevant municipalities to achieve. According to the municipality of Amsterdam, the average wait for housing for a status holder is a year or more. Difficulties in finding permanent accommodation for status holders leads to overcrowding in asylum centres. These centres should in theory function as temporary shelters for those making an asylum claim, but in reality are now operating as permanent residences. However, the influx of new asylum seekers has not stopped, forcing the asylum centres to house ever more people.

These problems are set to be compounded by the closure of multiple asylum centres across the country. Centres in Biddinghuizen, Breda, Meppel, Huizen and Nijmegen will all close in the immediate future, adding further strain to a system where cracks are now an enduring feature. There are currently 10,000 designated status holders who are living in asylum centres, who, if the system were working as intended, should now be living in permanent accommodation.

Last month, outgoing State Secretary for Asylum Eric van der Burg called for a more general expansion of the use of hotels in housing asylum seekers. This followed the revelation that the main Dutch asylum centre in Ter Apel, a municipality in the province of Groningen, is continually exceeding its capacity of 2000 people. One of the main reasons for this is the bottleneck resulting from the failure to find permanent housing for status holders.

The COA is fined for exceeding the maximum number of people living at Ter Apel, but it cannot find housing itself. For this, it depends on the municipalities, but many simply refuse to find accommodation. Now, the COA is unilaterally implementing a policy of housing status holders in hotels without municipality approval. This is possible because they are officially legal residents of the Netherlands. The COA said in a statement that it acts ‘on behalf of the government and after approval of the King’s commissioners’ – the chairs of the twelve provinces in the Netherlands.

The Association of Dutch Municipalities (VNG) has stated that it is aware of the plans by the COA to move status holders into hotels, while noting that it would be ‘nice’ for municipalities to be informed beforehand. The COA has suggested that informing municipalities prior to moving status will form part of the policy. It remains unclear how many of the 10,000 status holders currently without permanent housing will be moved into the hotels, nor which municipalities will be most affected.

In a febrile political atmosphere, in which migration has become the dominant culture war issue, this policy has the potential to add further tension to the Dutch political situation. Geert Wilders won the popular vote in the last general election on an anti-migrant platform, and while it is now expected he will not become Dutch PM, as the leader of the largest party in any coalition, he will wield considerable power. On his very active X account, Wilders continues to rail against ‘mass migration’, and commenting on a story suggesting that asylum seekers are being housed in 5-star hotels (which will not be the case), said: ‘This has to stop!’

It’s clear the refugee crisis is a complex situation for the Dutch government, which will seek to rebuild itself in the aftermath of Wilders’ stunning victory. It’s also clear that the current asylum system is collapsing and there are thousands of people without a home who should have one.

Written by James Turrell