STRASBOURG (14 October 2014) – The Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe, Mr. Nils Muižnieks, has published a report following his visit to the Netherlands last May. Despite a well-developed system for human rights protection, the Commissioner expressed a number of concerns including in relation to the administrative detention of asylum seekers and immigrants.
In his report, the Commissioner calls attention to the extensive use of administrative detention in the Netherlands, both at the border upon arrival and detention in view of deportation. All asylum seekers arriving at transit facilities are systematically detained, and one third of the migrants detained have been incarcerated for periods longer than 18 months. However, figures show that after 6 months in detention, only 17% of persons detained are actually deported. In this regard, the Commissioner finds that “the longer detention continues, the smaller the chance of departure becomes”, calling into question the legitimacy of detention in this context.
In relation to minors, there is an important concern in relation to the limited use of alternatives to juvenile pre-trial detention, as well as to detention of asylum seeker and migrant families with children. The CoE urges the Dutch authorities to stop the detention of all asylum seeker children encouraging the Netherlands to develop alternatives to detention and establishing a child-friendly justice system: accessible, age appropriate, speedy, diligent, adapted to and focused on the needs and rights of the child.
Conversely, the report positively remarks the substantial improvements for a well-established human rights protection system introduced by the creation of the Children’s Ombudsman and the NHRI. It is also well received the government initiative to grant the residence permit to a certain number of migrants who cannot be expelled, as well as to 675 rejected asylum seeker children and 775 of their family members.
Finally, the Commissioner expresses concern about conditions and treatment of persons in immigration detention. For example, foreigners awaiting deportation in detention centres are exposed to serious punitive measures, such as the placement in an isolation cells, limited access to meaningful activities and; what is more, while irregular immigrants have access to necessary medical care, they encounter serious difficulties in exercising this right in practice, both inside and outside detention centres. In addition, several serious incidents have occurred, such as an asylum seeker suicide and a hunger strike of group asylum seekers.
The Commissioner underlines that refugees and migrants should not be treated as criminals, and that detention of asylum seekers and migrants must be used as a last resort, for the shortest possible time, and only after considering alternatives to detention. In this regard, the government has prepared a draft bill with the stated aim of introducing a more human policy towards detention of immigrants that will be presented to Parliament this autumn. Nevertheless, some stakeholders criticised it because it does not address all the existing shortcomings.
The report concludes that migrant’s and children’s rights need better protection in the Netherlands, and recalls that “anyone, irrespective of whether their stay in a country is lawful, has the right to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and shelter”.
Response of the Netherlands government:
Post contributed by Oriol Vallès Freixas, 1 November 2014