Alternatives to Detention in the Netherlands

Making plans for life after return

In the Netherlands, an NGO-run programme assists persons who have been issued with a deportation order or have overstayed their visa to return to their country of origin.233

The program, which runs for a minimum of 13 weeks, is based on the premise that people should be empowered to prepare for departure from the Netherlands, and that the coercive environment of detention is not conducive to overcoming real or perceived barriers to return.
Coaches, or caseworkers, build trust with individuals and help them to identify and overcome obstacles to return. The program focuses on empowerment and restoring the independence of participants by building up the skills and confidence necessary for return.

The program includes business and skills training, some assistance to meet basic needs, and referrals to psychosocial services where required.

Participants develop a plan to establish a new business upon returning to their country of origin and receive financial support to implement this upon return.

The program is mainly government funded. It costs 6,000 EUR to assist an individual to return (including all associated costs) – the equivalent of 30 days in immigration detention. The program acts as an alternative to detention because the government undertakes that participants will not be detained and, in some cases, people are released from detention to participate in the program.

As of September 2014, over half the people enrolled in the program had
returned to their countries.

Temporary legal status 

Migrants whose applications have been rejected, including irregular, undocumented or unreturnable people, can be granted a residence permit for a limited time if they are unable to leave the Netherlands through no fault of their own .

The permit is granted on condition that the migrant leaves the Netherlands if this becomes possible at a later stage. After 3 years, the holder of the no-fault residence permit becomes eligible for another residence permit for limited time.

The applicant has to meet four stringent cumulative requirements: (i) they must prove that they have tried independently to leave the Netherlands (ii) the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) must have indicated that it is not able to assist them in leaving due to lack of travel documents  (iii) Dediation by the Return and Departure Services to obtain the necessary travel documents must have been unsuccessful (iv) the applicant must show that he or she cannot leave the Netherlands through no fault of his or her own.

Under the current no-fault procedure, the burden of proof lies exclusively with the applicant.

Monitoring: Reporting Requirements

The Netherlands Aliens Act 2000 can be used as a basis for restricting the movement of a failed asylum seeker by raising an obligation to report as often as twice each day after a negative decision has been taken on a claim.

Monitoring: Directed Residence in Community Housing Centers

In the Netherlands, asylum seekers who are not kept in the accelerated procedure are dispersed to large reception and accommodation centres.

Residents must report to a centre’s administration regularly, request permission for any absence, and if a resident is absent for more than three days then his or her place is withdrawn and his or her asylum application considered void.

If the centres are full, which has not been the case recently, an asylum seeker may live independently and report daily.

Until June 2002, permission to move out of the centres was also granted after six months, if all interviews were completed.

No data is available from the Dutch government with regard to the number of asylum seekers who abscond or fail to appear in the course of the main procedure. The availability for removal of persons found not to be in need of international protection is felt to be a far greater problem.

Returns policy

In the Netherlands, a number of different alternatives to detention are available as part of the Government’s returns policy.

The Repatriation and Departure Service (DT&V) and the police when assessing the need for an alternative to detention consider the following factors: the prospects of return, the alien’s willingness to actively work towards return, the risks of absconding and any new facts or developments in the alien’s personal situation.

The DT&V collaborates with local NGOs if the alien is willing to work on return with an NGO instead of the DT&V.

Every year the DT&V accepts applications for grants for local initiatives dealing with return, such as case management, or other in-kind or cash assistance upon return.

Different monitoring measures varying in intensity may be applied, sometimes in combination, for example, a duty to regularly report combined with DT&V assistance to prepare for return, the handing over of security deposit assessed against their financial situation, the deposit of documentation to the police or a measure of directed residence.

Attention to vulnerable groups such as families, unaccompanied or separated children, elderly persons or persons with physical disabilities or medical or psychological problems is included in the returns policy.

Pregnant women, for example, are entitled to postponement of return from six weeks before the due date until six weeks after the delivery, and they are provided with lawful residence and shelter and care during this period.

Find out more:

Tetty Havinga and Anita Bocker, “Country of Asylum by Choice or by Chance: Asylum-Seekers in Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 25, no. 1 (1999): 43-61.

Cornelis J. Laban, Ivan H. Komproe, Hajo B. P. E. Gernaat, and Joop T.V.M. de Jong. “The Impact of a Long Asylum Procedure on Quality of Life, Disability and Physical Health in Iraqi Asylum Seekers in the Netherlands.” Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 43, no. 7 (2008): 507-515.

Ophelia Field and Alice Edwards, Alternatives to Detention of Asylum Seekers and Refugees, (Geneva: UNHCR, 2006).

There are alternatives cover

Over the past five years, the IDC has undertaken a program of research to identify and describe a number of positive alternatives to immigration detention (‘alternatives’) that respect fundamental rights, are less expensive and are equally or more effective than traditional border controls.

This research, entitled There are alternatives, provides readers with the guidance needed to successfully avoid unnecessary detention and to ensure community options are as effective as possible.

This text was published in September 2015.