Families with children in aliens detention only by exception

Families with minor children will be placed in aliens detention only in exceptional circumstances. At present, families may be held in aliens detention for up to two weeks, but Minister for Immigration Fred Teeven has said this should be allowed only in cases where the family has previously evaded supervision.

All other families with minor children will be placed in family accommodation. As in the detention centres, the primary objective is to effect the return of aliens to their country of origin. Residents will be able to participate in more activities that are conducive to achieving this objective. With this plan, the minister is fulfilling the recommendations put forward in the report ‘Lost Time’ (‘Verloren Tijd’) published by the Advisory Committee on Migration Affairs (ACVZ). According to the letter on aliens policy recently approved by the cabinet, Mr Teven has taken on board the ACVZ’s recommendation not to broaden the scope of the government’s no-fault policy.

The minister also intends to change the current practice of requiring aliens in detention to submit to body searches. Alternatives in the form of body scans are being explored. Mr Teeven concurs with various organisations and political parties that a body search can be a very stressful experience.

In addition, the minister has taken measures aimed at improving the quality of medical care in aliens detention. For example, a cooperation agreement has been concluded to facilitate the transfer of medical information between the Custodial Institutions Agency (DJI) and the Aslyum Seekers Health Centre (GCA), which has offices at every centre for asylum seekers. This will make it easier for doctors at detention centres to obtain the information they need to treat patients.

Fewer people will be placed in aliens detention. The total number of places will be reduced from 2,000 to 933 by 2016. This will result in considerable cost savings and more stringent cost management. Every effort is being made to ensure that aliens spend as little time as possible in detention. This is proving effective, as 81% of people in aliens detention leave the Netherlands within three months. Moreover, according to a new report by the Research and Documentation Centre (WODC) on the effectiveness of aliens detention, a quarter of aliens become more willing to leave the Netherlands while they are in detention. This occurs primarily when people understand why they have been placed in aliens detention and are aware of the support and assistance available to them at the detention centre in preparing for their return.

Aliens detention is an extreme measure that must always be applied with restraint. This means that people may be placed in aliens detention only if they do not cooperate in their return, if there is a real risk of their evading supervision and if there is a realistic prospect of return within the foreseeable future. Aliens may ask the courts to assess whether their detention is lawful.

The minister would also like to make more use of alternative supervision measures. In 2012 various pilot studies were conducted to test alternative methods. In one of them, aliens agreed to pay a bond which would be returned to them once they had left the Netherlands. In another, aliens were required to report regularly to the authorities and to take part in an intensive return programme under the guidance of the Repatriation and Departure Service (DT&V). The pilot projects yielded positive results so there is good reason to incorporate these measures in current policy. Under the auspices of the Repatriation and Departure Service NGOs were given grants to fund return projects. The DT&V will be given a million euros a year to fund NGO projects that support departure. The requirement to report to the authorities and the payment of a bond will also be implemented as less rigorous measures. The best measures for the individual concerned will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Another important change is that the aliens detention regime will have its basis in administrative rather than criminal law. The minister intends to implement two regimes within the aliens detention system: a residence regime and a restrictive regime. Aliens placed in detention can be assigned to the less restrictive ‘residence regime’. Only those who pose a threat to public order and safety will be assigned to the ‘restrictive regime’. Under this restrictive regime aliens spend more time in their cells and will have fewer opportunities to choose activities to participate in. This method gives aliens more control over the degree of freedom they enjoy in the detention facility. Families with children who end up in detention will be kept there for the shortest possible time and will be accommodated in a separate wing with a special regime adapted to their needs.

With the package of measures he has presented today, Mr Teeven has fulfilled his commitment to work towards a restrictive aliens policy that is implemented humanely.

No-fault policy

The minister is pleased with the ACVZ’s report on the no-fault policy. It states in no uncertain terms that aliens who cannot leave through no fault of their own are eligible for a no-fault residence permit. The ACVZ confirms that the policy is not intended for ‘undeportable illegal aliens’ who put forward asylum-related reasons for not wishing to return to their country of origin and therefore refuse to cooperate in their return. The core principle of Dutch immigration policy is that aliens who are not given permission to stay in the country are under an obligation to leave. In most cases it is possible for them to leave because there are very few countries that refuse to take back their own nationals. The report confirms that most aliens are able to return independently. The minister will follow the vast majority of the ACVZ’s recommendations regarding the no-fault policy. The ACVZ found no cause to extend the policy to other target groups. The minister will, however, work to increase procedural efficiency to ensure that the no-fault policy remains just and fair.

Meaningful activity

In response to the ACVZ report ‘Lost Time’ Mr Teeven has announced an expansion of the range of activities offered in family and restrictive accommodation facilities. The ACVZ indicated in its report that having opportunities for meaningful daily activity helps aliens maintain self-esteem, improves their health and ensures that the regime in place is humane. Teeven emphasises that while the facilities are humane now and offer more services than required under international rules, he sees merit in doing more to promote activity geared towards helping people prepare for their return. This could include, for example, offering short courses in car repair, swimming lessons, language or parenting classes or work on site such as gardening and maintenance. The principal aim is to offer meaningful activity that will benefit people after they have returned to their country of origin.

Extended Closed Border Asylum Procedure

The minister has taken note of the fact that the Dutch Refugee Council and UNHCR would prefer to see fewer aliens detained under the Extended Closed Border Asylum Procedure at Schiphol airport. (The figure for last year was approximately 50 people.) This is in keeping with the revised Dublin Regulation that will come into force on 1 January 2014. In any case, the Extended Closed Border Asylum Procedure will remain in place for cases involving criminal activity such as fraud, abuse or war crimes. A bill will be debated in the House of Representatives shortly.

Family reunification with a person granted asylum status

The minister also addressed a report by the Children’s Ombudsman on the issue of family reunification with a person granted asylum status. The Ombudsman finds that the staff who interview asylum seekers tend to focus on discovering inconsistencies in the accounts of children, which suggests that rejection is their starting point. This is emphatically not the case. Thorough investigations are carried out before family members of asylum seekers are admitted to the Netherlands in order to establish the family relationship and prevent abduction of and trafficking in children. A bill reviewing the grounds for asylum and making a number of changes to the family reunification policy is currently being considered by the Senate.

Mr Teeven: ‘I am convinced that these measures will ensure a restrictive immigration policy that is implemented humanely, within the parameters set by the coalition agreement.’