Dutch PM "ashamed" of asylum failings as MSF steps in

FILE PHOTO: Refugees wait outdoors on damp ground at the main reception centre for asylum seekers, in Ter Apel, Netherlands August 17, 2022. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo

TER APEL, Netherlands (Reuters) -Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Friday said he was "ashamed" of problems at the country's centre for processing asylum requests as humanitarian group Medecins sans Frontieres sent in a team to assist with migrants' medical needs.

His government announced a series of measures intended to address the problems at the Ter Apel centre, where hundreds of asylum seekers have been sleeping rough in recent weeks.

But Rutte said at a news conference the problems were "not something that can be solved in a few weeks or months".

It was the first time that MSF, also known as Doctors Without Borders and mostly active in poor developing nations, has worked in the Netherlands, a wealthy European Union state, the MSF emergency coordinator at the shelter said.

"The asylum-seekers here live in dismal, primitive circumstances," Monique Nagelkerke said.

Rutte said a 2015 decision to reduce asylum capacity and a national housing shortage were aggravating the problem.

"I think that everyone in the Netherlands thinks it's terrible that MSF feels obliged to jump in at Ter Apel," he told reporters.

His cabinet on Friday announced measures to meet a Sept. 10 deadline to have new arrivals at the centre sheltered, including enlisting the help of the Defence Ministry to open a second registration location on a military base.

It also said it would take temporary measures to restrict the "inflow" of migrants, including halting accepting 1,000 asylum seekers annually as agreed under a 2016 European Union deal with Turkey. It will also halt visas for family members of people who do not have housing in the Netherlands.

The arrival of MSF followed the death of a 3-month-old baby at the Ter Apel shelter this week, which drew international concern.

The baby died of unknown causes in a sports gymnasium being used as a makeshift shelter for newcomers at the shelter with nowhere else to sleep, according to Leon Veldt, spokesman for the Dutch Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers.

"We are stuck, we don't know where to go," said Motaz Mohammed, 25, who came from Yemen and has been sleeping outside the centre for 11 days, through both a heat-wave and thunderstorms.

"No one wants to talk to us, only the guards, and the guards tell us: 'Sorry, wait'."

(Reporting by Toby Sterling and Piroschka van de Wouw; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Alex Richardson and Angus MacSwan)

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