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The Netherlands should improve protection of the rights of asylum seekers, migrants and children

Visit to the Netherlands
headline Strasbourg 23/05/2014
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Migrant camp in empty church in The Hague

Migrant camp in empty church in The Hague

"The Dutch authorities should stop automatic detention of asylum seekers arriving at Dutch international (air)ports from non-Schengen countries. In particular, children and their families do not belong there" said today Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, at the end of a three-day visit to the Netherlands, which included a visit to Schiphol airport’s migrant detention centre.

The Commissioner welcomes the decreasing use of detention of migrants awaiting deportation. However, he stresses that progress is still needed to ensure that administrative detention of migrants is used as a last resort only, in conformity with the country’s human rights obligations.

The Commissioner also recalls that the Dutch authorities should always treat the best interests of the child as a primary consideration in all their decisions relating to asylum and migration, in compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Referring in particular to the procedure allowing for residence permits (kinderpardon) to be granted to certain minor asylum seekers who have lived in the Netherlands for more than five years, the Commissioner calls on the Dutch authorities to apply the procedure in a more inclusive way.

Following a visit to an empty church in The Hague, where irregular migrants have been living in camp-like conditions for more than one year, Commissioner Muižnieks calls on the Dutch authorities to ensure that basic needs, including shelter, clothes and food, of persons at immediate risk of destitution are met, as also requested by the European Committee of Social Rights in October 2013. Addressing the more general situation of these persons, many of whom have been living in the Netherlands for many years, he said that “the protracted situation of legal limbo of many irregular migrants who cannot be returned should be addressed in a manner that is both humane and human-rights compliant”.

As regards children’s rights more generally, while welcoming that the number of minors held in detention for criminal offences is decreasing, Commissioner Muižnieks considers that the Netherlands should ensure that all children in conflict with the law face child-friendly procedures, raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility and remove the possibility of sentencing 16 to 17 year-old children under adult criminal law.

Moreover, with 70,000 children with disabilities being educated in special needs schools (out of a total of approximately 110,000), the Commissioner also urges the Dutch authorities to step up their efforts to ensure inclusive education in mainstream schools for these children and to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Lastly, the Commissioner welcomes the solid legal and institutional framework for the protection and promotion of human rights in the Netherlands, which has recently been strengthened by the establishment of the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights and the adoption of the country’s first National Human Rights action plan. “I hope that the Dutch authorities will build on these important initiatives by including ambitious and measurable goals in the Action Plan and ensuring adequate funding for the Institute”.

The Commissioner's report on his visit to the Netherlands is forthcoming.