The Netherlands is investigating the death of a baby at the Ter Apel asylum center

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Dutch authorities are investigating the death of a three-month-old baby in a makeshift shelter as the country struggles to accommodate an influx of asylum seekers. Hundreds of people have been left to sleep outside and in tents in conditions described by aid agencies as “inhumane”.

The baby died on Wednesday morning in Ter Apel, a village in the northeast that serves as a port of entry for the Dutch asylum system. The child was at a sports facility which was converted into an emergency shelter after the area’s main refugee center ran out of space.

Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Eric van der Burg said he was “deeply shocked” by the incident, the Associated Press reported, but authorities gave no further details. the circumstances of the child’s death.

The incident highlighted the increasingly dire conditions for asylum seekers in the Netherlands, where a housing crisis, lack of space in shelters and reduced immigration staff have created dangerous bottlenecks in refugee centers across the country. Thousands of refugees are now living in emergency shelters such as tents, gymnasiums and reception halls, rights advocates say.

The situation is so dire, according to aid agencies, that at least one refugee rights group has sued the Dutch government. The Red Cross also began providing assistance to asylum seekers in Ter Apel this month, and Doctors Without Borders began offering medical and psychological care on Thursday – the first time it has offered such assistance to Netherlands.

“It is unprecedented that we are providing medical assistance in the Netherlands, but the conditions these people find themselves in are inhumane,” said Judith Sargentini, director of Doctors Without Borders for the Netherlands, in a statement.

AP reported on Thursday that 700 people had been sleeping rough in Ter Apel in recent days after the refugee center, which can accommodate up to 2,000 people, ran out of space. Those living outside the center do not have access to clean showers and toilets, and some asylum seekers with chronic illnesses are running out of medicine, according to Doctors Without Borders.

The organization said pregnant women and children were among the crowds of people stuck outside the gates of the center last week. “If this situation continues, it could lead to serious medical emergencies,” Doctors Without Borders said in a press release on Thursday.

Munasar Muhidin, a teenage asylum seeker who said he fled Somalia in 2020 after Islamist militants killed most of his family, told Reuters that when he arrived in Ter Apel he was forced to camp on the side of the road, where clashes broke out and thunderstorms. left her bedding soaked.

In the Netherlands, several thousand people apply for asylum every month. Most of the candidates are Syrians, according to government figures, but others come from countries such as Afghanistan, Eritrea, Turkey and Yemen.

Long before the evacuation, a generation of Afghans fled to Europe. Their experience was disastrous.

After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Dutch authorities reserved accommodation beds for some 60,000 Ukrainian refugees, who bypassed the normal asylum process.

The number of new asylum seekers has increased compared to recent years, said Karel Hendriks, spokesperson for Doctors Without Borders. But it remains significantly lower than it was at the height of Europe’s refugee crisis in 2015-2016.

Since that peak, Dutch authorities have downsized the immigration service and closed asylum centres, reducing processing and accommodation capacity, according to the Dutch Refugee Council, a refugee rights group. refugees.

“The reception crisis was caused by political choices and could have been avoided,” said Nienke Toren, spokesperson for the group. She said many Dutch municipalities have refused to participate in efforts to create more shelters.

The Dutch Refugee Council has sued the government to improve conditions for asylum seekers, with a hearing date set for September 15.

Several government agencies, including the Health and Youth Inspectorate, said they sounded the alarm over deteriorating conditions months ago.

Leon Veldt, spokesman for the government-run Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA), told Reuters this month that the country would need 51,000 beds for asylum seekers. asylum by the end of the year. It currently has 45,000.

“The COA is doing all it can to prioritize shelters for the most vulnerable people, such as children, people with health conditions and women,” said Lennart Wegewijs, a spokesperson for the agency. agency, adding that the COA is doing its best to improve conditions outside of its facility “where possible.”

Some COA workers stopped work on Tuesday to protest conditions at Ter Apel, local daily Dagblad van het Noorden reported.

After the baby’s death on Wednesday, Wegewijs said residents and workers at Ter Apel felt “sadness and helplessness.”

The overall crisis has raised tensions with local residents and police have struggled to maintain security. Fighting has broken out as asylum seekers grow increasingly desperate – and the Red Cross has been forced to close its service point for several days, said Iris van Deinse, spokeswoman for the Dutch branch.

The government has offered unusual solutions to address the shortage of shelter, including housing asylum seekers in hotels and on cruise ships. Authorities have leased two cruise ships, one of which can accommodate 1,000 asylum seekers for up to six months, starting in September.

Ukrainians in Rotterdam will use a cruise ship as a floating shelter

The government “must make municipalities formally responsible for providing shelter and reception as soon as possible, as happened with the Ukrainians who came here,” Toren said.

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