Global Detention Project Survey completed by Laura Cleton, University of Antwerp
HAS THE NETHERLANDS PLACED A TEMPORARY MORATORIUM ON NEW IMMIGRATION DETENTION ORDERS BECAUSE OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?
NO. Some categories of undocumented migrants, especially those with criminal records, can still be placed in immigration detention if apprehended by the police. The Minister for Migration mentioned explicitly that she does not intend to end detention as a whole. Several members of Parliament asked her about this, following statements from the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Council of Europe. She does mention that there are always individual assessments, and that this has led to a “drop” in the number of detainees: 310 on April 2, whereas 460 on January 31 (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).
HAS THE COUNTRY RELEASED PEOPLE FROM IMMIGRATION DETENTION BECAUSE OF THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC?
YES. The government argues that, since there is a “temporary impediment” on expulsion (no flights, mostly), that does not necessarily mean that the chance of removal within a reasonable period of time is not there. Based on an individual assessments, the responsible organizations will decide if continuation of detention is still justified. While doing this, they take into account that most expulsions cannot take place at the moment, but also take into account “societal interests” in continuing detention. So, for detainees with criminal records, those in migrant detention as result of a prison sentence, or those causing “nuisance” (the debate in the Netherlands on “nuisance” has been heavily racialized for rejected-asylum seekers from Northern-African “safe countries”) detention will be prolonged, and new detentions for these categories are also possible. Moreover, detainees who do not yet possess valid travel/ID documentation will face prolongation of their detention in most cases, whereas this is the case to a lesser degree for those with valid travel documents: as actually enforcing return in the former situation is not yet at hand, their prolonged detention is in most cases justified. Also, for the former case, the DT&V can still continue investigations on nationality and identity, and hence is prolonged detention mostly justified (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).
Several news outlets in the Netherlands have reported that detainees have been released. On 30 March, NOS mentioned that at least 10 Dublin cases were released, and consequently directed to the temporary emergency shelter in Zoutkamp (see Q6 below for more details).
On 23 April, the Court in The Hague, considering the case of a detainee from Poland, said that there was still a chance of removal within a reasonable period of time, even though there are currently no travel opportunities to Poland. Reasons brought forward were amongst others the “temporary nature” of the impediment for travel (possibilities of travel to Poland again in May), the fact that the detainee has resisted a previous deportation attempt, and his declarations on non-cooperation. In an earlier decision (25 March), where the only fact preventing deportation was the closure of the airspace, The Hague Court decided that detention should be lifted. In this case, the detainee has been in detention for a long time and there was no sight on flight available on the short term.
WHAT MEASURES ARE BEING TAKEN OUTSIDE DETENTION TO HELP PREVENT FORMER DETAINEES FROM BEING INFECTED? ARE “ALTERNATIVES TO DETENTION” EMPLOYED?
In case people are released from detention, there is no automatic right to reception, nor is there in all cases an “alternative to detention” (like a reporting requirement) in place, if regular policy does not allow for this (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601). The Minister for Migration mentions that alternatives to detention (like reporting requirements) are standard procedure in the Netherlands, as detention is only used if all other possibilities are deemed insufficient (e.g. because of a risk of absconding). The current corona situation does not, according to the Minister for Migration, change that policy principle (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).
There is no current strategy for irregular migrants outside reception facilities to prevent themselves from being infected. Migrants in municipal LVV-shelter (pilot project in five large municipalities in the Netherlands, temporary shelter for undocumented migrants) follow guidelines from the national health organization that are in place for the shelter of homeless Dutch citizens. No further additional measures are taken (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).
ARE IMMIGRATION DETAINEES BEING TESTED FOR COVID-19?
In regular COA (Council for Reception of Asylum Seekers) reception facilities (for asylum seekers and those whose right to reception was about to terminate at the beginning of the pandemic), there were 5 persons with positive covid-19 test results as of 7 April. If there is any suspicion of an asylum seeker being infected with the virus, they are subject to a protocol that COA has set up together with national and local health services. The person is then quarantined in special places that each COA location has set up, which depend from facility to facility. If necessary, the person will be transferred to the hospital. Asylum seekers are not tested for Covid-19 in general, due to the limited testing capacity in the Netherlands, and “no indications for a heightened risk of infection” (direct quote). There is a medical control by the local health organization in the pre-registration process (see Q6), and if then there is a suspicion of a covid-19 contamination or a positive test, they will be put in quarantine (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).
The national health organization (RIVM) has not provided specific guidelines for detention centres, but the detention centres mostly follow guidelines that are in place for regular prisons. Most actions deal with limiting the size of groups that detainees have contact with. They daily program in terms of activities is limited from 07.15 to 16.00. They reside on floors with max. 32 others, although still with 2 persons in one bedroom. There is no possibility for visits (apart from lawyers), but they continue electronically. If it is suspected that a detainee is infected with the virus, they are isolated in another cell and receive medical treatment there. If symptoms worsen, they are transferred to a hospital. As of 7 April, there were no known situations according to the Minister for Migration (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601), although a national newspaper mentioned that same day that there were two cases reported at the Schiphol Detention Centre. On 25 April, an 8th case was confirmed at the Schiphol Detention Centre, and there have been reports of severe unrest and fear in the centre, as social distancing measures were almost impossible to uphold according to the detainees.
In the Netherlands in general, testing capacity is at the moment mainly reserved for vulnerable persons (elderly, patients at risk) and health staff in hospitals and nursing homes. There is not necessarily increased test capacity for prisons available (and hence, expectedly, also not for detention centres).
HAS THE COUNTRY HALTED DEPORTATIONS/REMOVALS BECAUSE OF THE PANDEMIC?
YES. In principle, the Repatriation and Departure Service (DT&V), the organization responsible for organizing expulsions from the Netherlands, does not engage in any face-to-face contact with migrants. The government argues that, as travel possibilities are severely limited, that the expected results of the return interviews DT&V caseworkers initiate will be limited, and cannot outweigh risk for public health (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 35300-VI no. 114).
Dublin transfers to other European member states are no longer possible, but as these migrants can only be held in detention for a limited amount of them, most of them are released from detention (see Q2) (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2592). At the time of the decision to halt Dublin transfers, 70 Dublin cases where in detention. After being released, 50 of them they are directed to COA regular reception facilities, and later 10 to the temporary emergency shelter in Zoutkamp (see Q6). Another 10 do not have any right to reception (no reasons given). There is no current information available on deportations carried out, and the specific countries to which this is still done.
HAS THE COUNTRY ADOPTED NEW IMMIGRATION AND/OR ASYLUM POLICIES AS WELL AS BORDER CONTROLS IN RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 CRISIS?
YES. As a response to the covid-19 situation, the Dutch government decided that there will be no new applications for asylum possible. They argue that, in light of the contact-intensive nature of asylum application procedures, it is no longer responsible to continue the procedure. Newly arriving asylum seekers will also not be admitted to the regular reception for asylum seekers, managed by COA. Alternatively, they are housed in a temporary emergency shelter, based in an old military base in Zoutkamp, in the North of the Netherlands (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2592). On April 7, approx. 195 asylum seekers (among them 10 minors) resided in this temporary emergency shelter, mainly from Syria and Yemen. There is a maximum capacity for 210 persons, and hence, government is looking for a second location. There are rooms for 6 – 8 people. There is healthcare assistance available, but as of now no schooling for minors yet (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).
Newly arriving asylum seekers are not identified and registered as normally would happen, and they are not able to start their application for protection. They are, however, registered in a “light” fashion, a pre-registration. They receive a “foreigner registration number,” their finger prints are taken and run through European databases (Dublin cases), their belongings are searched, they get a short intake and their ID/travel documentation if available are collected. Before the pre-registration takes place, a medical check is conducted, in which the general guidelines from the national health services are taken into account (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 35300-VI no. 114).
Asylum seekers who lose their right to residence, as a result of their period for “voluntary departure” ending, continue to have residence in COA locations (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 19637 no. 2601).
All other immigration applications are also temporarily suspended (family, work, study, etc.) (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 35300-VI no. 114).
Moreover, all hearings are suspended from 17 March onwards until further notice. This also covers judgements of assistant prosecutors on whether detention with the purpose of expulsion is justified (Kamerstukken II 2019-2020, 35300-VI no. 114). In urgent cases, there might be exceptions for this (without further specifying what such situations might be).
- Orkun Akinci, “Toen er asielzoekers uit veilige landen bijkwamen, begonnen de misdragingen,” Trouw, 2 June 2019, https://www.trouw.nl/nieuws/toen-er-asielzoekers-uit-veilige-landen-bijkwamen-begonnen-de-misdragingen~baf06dfa/
- NOS, “Vreemdelingen vrijgelaten uit detentie vanwege coronacrisis,” 30 March 2020, https://nos.nl/artikel/2328839-vreemdelingen-vrijgelaten-uit-detentie-vanwege-coronacrisis.html
- Court of the Hague, “Judgment ECLI: NL: RBDHA: 2020: 3720,” 25 March 2020, https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2020:3270
- Court of the Hague, “ECLI: NL: RBDHA: 2020: 3766,” 21 April 2020, https://uitspraken.rechtspraak.nl/inziendocument?id=ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2020:3766
- House of Representatives of the States General, “Parliamentary Document,” 23 March 2020, https://zoek.officielebekendmakingen.nl/kst-35300-VI-114.html
- House of Representatives of the States General, “Parliamentary document,” 25 March 2020, https://zoek.officielebekendmakingen.nl/kst-19637-2592.html
- House of Representatives of the States General, “Parliamentary document,” 23 April 2020, https://zoek.officielebekendmakingen.nl/kst-19637-2601.html
- P. Vugts, “Twee gevangenen detentiecentrum Schiphol met corona besmet,” Het Parool, 7 April 2020, https://www.parool.nl/amsterdam/twee-gevangenen-detentiecentrum-schiphol-met-corona-besmet~b5cb802f/?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter
- P. Vugts, “Achtste coronabesmetting in detentiecentrum Schiphol,” Het Parool, 25 April 2020,
- P. Vugts & R. Boere, “Grote onrust in detentiecentrum Schiphol na wéér een besmetting,” 23 April 2020, https://www.ad.nl/binnenland/grote-onrust-in-detentiecentrum-schiphol-na-weer-een-besmetting~a64efcb7/?referrer=https://www.google.com/
- Hart van Nederland, “Dat het testbeleid in gevangenissen en tbs-klinieken hetzelfde is als buiten slaat nergens op,” 7 April 2020, https://www.hartvannederland.nl/nieuws/2020/testbeleid-gevangenis-coronavirus/
- Asylum Seekers in the Ter Apel Centre, (ANP, “Asielzoekers wachten buiten op stoep, aanmeldcentrum dicht vanwege corona,” AD, 16 March 2020, https://www.ad.nl/binnenland/asielzoekers-wachten-buiten-op-stoep-aanmeldcentrum-dicht-vanwege-corona~acea4f0d/?referrer=https://www.google.com/)
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in the Netherlands: Prioritising Returns in Europe and the Caribbean,” February 2020, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/countries/europe/netherlands