Dutch under pressure to rectify ‘inhumane’ conditions at asylum seeker center

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Pressure rose on the Dutch government on Friday to tackle what refugee advocates have called “inhumane” conditions at its main shelter for asylum seekers as humanitarian group Medecins sans Frontieres sent in a team to assist with medical needs.

It was the first time that MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders and mostly active in poor developing nations, was working in the Netherlands, a wealthy European Union state, the MSF emergency coordinator at the shelter said.

“The asylum-seekers here live in dismal, primitive circumstances,” Monique Nagelkerke said, referring in part to more than 700 asylum seekers who have been sleeping rough outside the reception center in Ter Apel in recent weeks.

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Dutch broadcaster RTL Nieuws reported earlier on Friday that the government planned to rectify conditions by increasing the center’s capacity and ordering regional authorities to take in more refugees, citing a leaked plan.

That followed the death of a 3-month-old baby at the Ter Apel shelter this week, which drew international concern.

“We are stuck, we don’t know where to go,” said Mortad, 25, who came from Yemen and has been sleeping outside the center for 11 days, through both a heatwave and thunderstorms.

“No one wants to talk to us, only the guards, and the guards tell us: ‘Sorry, wait’.”

Charlotte Hees, a spokesperson for the Justice Ministry, which oversees asylum policy, said she could not confirm the RTL report “because there are still negotiations going on.”

Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who in June said he was “ashamed” with regard to the persistent problems at the country’s sole asylum seeker intake center, was expected to announce plans later on Friday after a cabinet meeting.

The Dutch Council for Refugees has said conditions at the Tel Apel center in the northeastern province of Groningen are “inhumane” and violate European Union law.

The baby died of unknown causes in a sports gymnasium being used as a makeshift shelter for newcomers at the shelter with nowhere else to sleep, according to Leon Veldt, spokesman for the Dutch Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers.

A lawsuit by the refugee council, due to be heard on Sept. 15, demands improved conditions at the reception center by Oct. 1, including access to clean water, showers, privacy, adequate food and healthcare.

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