IND, COA, DT&V present annual figures

Family members joining refugees and asylum seekers from safe countries of origin were key themes of 2016.

For the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND), the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) and the Repatriation and Departure Service (DT&V), 2016 marked a decline in asylum applicants relative to the spike in 2015, though it remained an exceptionally busy year. With a large number of Syrians in particular having entered the Netherlands in 2015, last year family members began applying to join them. The year was also characterised by a large influx from safe countries of origin.

At 31,600, the total number of asylum seekers (first-time applications, repeated applications and family reunification applications) in 2016 was almost half the record influx of 2015 (58,900). More than one-third were Syrians (34%), followed by Eritreans (9%) and Albanians (5%). There were 18,170 first-time applications, 1,660 repeated applications and 11,810 that concerned family reunifications.

The change in the character of asylum requests was evident from the outset of 2016, particularly among Syrians and Eritreans. Around one-quarter of first-time asylum applications were submitted by people from safe countries of origin. A country is considered to be a safe country of origin if in general there is no persecution on grounds such as race or religion, and no use of torture or inhumane treatment in that country.

Early 2016 saw large numbers of people come to the Netherlands from Albania, Serbia and Kosovo, and later in the year also from Morocco and Algeria. Many had already been through other countries in the European Union and therefore under the Dublin Regulation had to return to that country to complete their asylum process. This combination of factors led to a sharp decline in the percentage of asylum applications that were approved, from 70% in 2015 to 54% in 2016.

Intensive cooperation helped enable the IND, COA and DT&V to respond effectively to the new developments in asylum applications. Asylum seekers from safe countries of origin could be denied and sent back to their home countries faster, freeing up space for those who are likely eligible to remain in the Netherlands. Joint informational meetings were organised for asylum seekers, and the three organisations also joined forces with municipal authorities to tackle situations in which asylum seekers were causing local disruptions. This cooperation will be further cemented when the head offices of the IND, COA and DT&V relocate to a single shared premises on Rijnstraat in The Hague later this year.

Apart from activities involving asylum seekers, the IND additionally worked on expanding its online services in 2016. Highly skilled migrants who wish to work or study in the Netherlands can now apply for a residence permit by having their sponsor (employer or university) submit an application through the website (www.ind.nl). General Director Rob van Lint hopes the new digital procedure will cater more directly to all IND clients. 'This simplifies the submission of applications and speeds processing at the IND, which is a valuable step forward.'

At the COA, last year's drop in asylum applicants led to the closure of emergency reception centres and non-renewal of contracts. This trend is continuing and the reduced influx of asylum seekers has now resulted in surplus reception space.

Simultaneous with this development, the COA intensified integration and civic and labour participation activities. According to COA Director Gerard Bakker, 'We are working constructively with municipal authorities, volunteers and local residents to help people with residence permits to integrate in the Netherlands. Helping them get to grips with life here is our shared responsibility.'

The DT&V had to process almost twice as many asylum seekers whose applications had been denied by the IND as in the previous year, due to the higher influx in 2015 and larger number of applicants from safe countries of origin in 2016. Roughly 17,000 departures were registered by the DT&V in 2016, of which 40% were independent under supervision, 47% independent without supervision and 13% forced.

The DT&V further recorded the return home of the last of the 23 Somali pirates early this year after having served out their sentences in the Netherlands. 'We have expended a huge amount of effort over the past few years on this process, and indeed the whole return process in general. Handling returns is and will continue to be a matter of cooperation with chain partners', notes DT&V General Director Jannita Robberse.

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