ANP refugees wait for a bus at the COA reception center in Ter Apel.
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 21:04
The asylum seeker center in Ter Apel had great difficulty in recent days finding enough shelters for unaccompanied minor asylum seekers. The number of so-called unaccompanied minor aliens (AMVs) has been increasing for several years. The Netherlands is a popular destination, but why is this?
In the first half of this year, 1852 minors applied for asylum in the Netherlands. That was much more than in the first six months of 2022, when there were 1,198 applications. It causes problems at the registration center in Ter Apel. There is room for 55 unaccompanied minors here, but it regularly happens that there are more than 300 young people there. The vast majority of them are boys.
The number of underage asylum seekers also increased in other European countries, but in the Netherlands this growth rate is higher, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) reported in a study last year.
Why do parents send their child ahead?
The IND mentions the most important reasons in its report:
There is no money for the travel of other family membersAnd elaborating on this: the trip is probably cheaper for minorsThe father of the family still has to continue to earn money in the country of origin to support the family
Underage asylum seekers have the right to reception, education and guidance. If they are younger than 15 years old, they end up in a foster family under the responsibility of the Nidos foundation. If they are older than 15 years, they will end up in the small-scale shelter of the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA).
They therefore receive different treatment than adult asylum seekers and are supervised more intensively. For example, compulsory education also applies to them, just as it does to Dutch children. If there is any doubt about their age, for example if they do not have identity papers, a bone examination is carried out.
Most underage asylum seekers come from Syria. Provisional annual figures from Statistics Netherlands show that there were more than 4,200 unaccompanied minors in our country in 2022. Of these, 2,425 had Syrian nationality. Other countries where many minors come from are Eritrea (605 young people in 2022) and Somalia (320 in 2022).
Why are it mainly boys who come to the Netherlands alone?
In many cases, this is probably for the same reason as the reason why there are more men than women in asylum shelters: the crossing is dangerous and the father of the family or the eldest son wants to spare the family this journey. Women or girls who travel alone are at greater risk of being sexually abused or sexually exploited than men or boys.
According to last year’s IND research, most minors do not yet choose the Netherlands as their final destination upon departure. Some of them have no choice at all because they are dependent on human smugglers who ‘dump’ them here. But the vast majority of people who do have a choice do not have the Netherlands in mind beforehand.
There is no conclusive explanation for the popularity of the Netherlands. Well-informed refugees will know that the procedures in the Netherlands are better organized than in some other European countries, the IND suspects. This allows them to obtain asylum more quickly or be reunited with their family more quickly. Unlike many other European countries, they can apply for their parents or other family members to come to the Netherlands.
NOS Stories spoke last year with the Guinean Lhomme, who came to the Netherlands as a minor. He explained how his care in the Netherlands went:
It is not the case that the Netherlands receives the most underage asylum seekers in absolute numbers within the European Union. For example, more underage asylum seekers came to Austria, Germany, Belgium and Bulgaria in 2021.
The rising numbers are creating a struggle: more shelters are needed, but municipalities are not eager. State Secretary Van der Burg of Asylum consulted with COA directors last week. He said that priority should be given to single asylum seekers and parents with children in reception. He also asked for hundreds of additional places for minors.