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The Netherlands is Full – Of People

🕑 5 min

By Melle De Ridder

1. Introduction and Context

With an average of 521 inhabitants per square kilometer, the Netherlands ranks as the 4th most densely populated country in the world, excluding microstates and islands. In the European Union, it is second, behind Malta. With 17,6 million citizens at the end of 2021 and a prognosis of 18,9 million in 2035 and 19,6 million in 2050, the question is raised whether such a small country can even handle such numbers. Providing housing to all these people has been a continuous problem for the past five years. To make matters worse, this summer, a new crisis emerged in the Netherlands: The Migration Crisis. Depending on who you ask, some might also refer to it as a migration-housing crisis or a ‘created’ crisis due to years of austerity measures on the Dutch Immigration- and Naturalisation Service (IND) and the Central Reception of Asylum seekers (COA). Regardless, it resulted in refugees and migrants sleeping outside the only incoming registration office site, which resulted in widespread debates within the country as well as in the Dutch Cabinet. Practically no mayors were willing to take up additional asylum seekers, arguing that there was no support under its inhabitants. It escalated when the state secretary of Migration (VVD) forced a small, rural municipality to host up to 300 asylum seekers by buying a hotel without the approval of the local council.

2. The Solution?

After a lot of turmoil, the Cabinet came up with a plan to ease pressure on the IND and COA by unilaterally cancelling the obligations under the Turkey Migration Deal, which results in 1.000-1.500 fewer take-ups. In addition, the partner and child(ren) of an asylum seeker, who has been granted official residence in the Netherlands, are only allowed to come over as soon as the status holder has his/her own residence.

This results in fewer beds occupied per approved application. The IND is furthermore allowed to extend the time per application to a maximum of fifteen months. Lastly, persons who have been granted official residence must be released sooner from ‘emergency’ shelters, by investing 316 million euros in building 20.000 flex houses. This asylum-easing package is the result of a compromise between the four coalition parties. It, however, did not satisfy any. Very rapidly, members of all parties recalled their representatives to explain the deal. For the ChristenUnie and the liberal progressive D66, the deal was inhumane and going in against international law. The leader of the Christian party said that “the deal was just about bearable” in a party conference. On the other hand, for the Christian democrats of the CDA and the liberal conservatives of the VVD, the deal was “worthless and liberal unworthy”, especially due to the forcing of the state secretary. This was unacceptable to these more right-leaning parties. As such, a new bill that would allow the national government to force municipalities in housing asylum seekers, with or without approval, has not (yet) been passed.

3. New Migration Prognoses

Since the migration deal, the crisis has left mainstream Dutch media until last Sunday, 23 October, when the NRC newspaper released internal government documents, which stated that the government assumes that more than 50.000 people will enter the Netherlands and apply for asylum status in 2023.

Of these applications, more will be approved since the expectation is that more refugees from so-called ‘unsafe’ countries come, which increases their chance of a permanent residence status. This would entail that more housing is required. The highest estimate of incoming asylum seekers can reach up to 77.000 applications. Both numbers exclude Ukrainian refugees since these have obtained a special status under EU regulations. As mentioned before, the IND and COA are in a severe housing crisis and according to next year’s estimates, the situation will surely not become more bearable. Tens of thousands of new rooms will have to be fixed or built, something very few municipalities are willing to do. In fact, the chairman of the Dutch Security Council, an assembly in which the 25 security regions of the Netherlands are represented, has threatened to stop providing emergency shelters for asylum seekers as of 1 April 2023 in case no solution has been found. He argued that it is not a competence and responsibility of the municipalities, but of the national government. To make matters worse, in case Ukrainian refugees would lose their special EU status or apply in the regular application trajectory, an additional 76.000 people would need to be housed. In addition, the Dutch Central Bureau for Statistics released on Thursday that the population of the Netherlands has skyrocketed in the first nine months of 2022. The number of inhabitants has increased by a staggering 191.000, twice as much as last year and the sharpest incline in more than twenty years. Of this, only 2.500 are due to natural growth. The increase excludes already present asylum seekers in Dutch centers who have not (yet) received permanent asylum status. As such, the actual number is even higher. 30 per cent of the increase was due to the war in Ukraine. Without these, there were still 22.000 more than in 2021.

4. Some Though Decisions Lay Ahead

All in all, the Dutch Cabinet is facing a challenging future, with solutions that will not please every coalition party. The increased influx of migrants, refugees, and students entails that more housing is required, or inflow must be decreased. The asylum deal is a good start in easing both sides of the issue: it reduces the voluntary intake of migrants and at the same time invests millions in housing projects that can be used for permanent status holders. The deal will, however, not fix the problem, especially not since the estimated influx of 2023 will be the highest in twenty years.

In addition, the Dutch Cabinet must seriously think about whether a law forcing municipalities to accept asylum seekers with or without support is the right thing to do as it will most likely harm and stimulate the already-growing distrust relation between The Hague and its voters. The Cabinet must, therefore, take other draconic measures to further decrease the influx of foreigners into the Netherlands and rapidly ease the COA centers by providing housing for permanent residence status holders. A poll conducted by I&O Research shows that 61 per cent of Dutch citizens approved the recent asylum deal, 22 per cent argues for a stricter policy, and only six per cent stated that it is too harsh or inhumane. There is thus enough support in the electorate and the Cabinet must realise that this crisis requires out-of-the-box thinking and leadership. The crisis has been affecting the Netherlands for some time already, and if the government wants to avoid a rapid escalation of the situation in the near future, it is crucial that it acts firmly now.

Sources: NOS, COA, CBS, PBL, Volkstrant, NRC

Written by Melle De Ridder

October 2022

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