Human Rights News

Netherlands: Safety of Failed Asylum Seekers at Risk

Planned Deportations Would Put Thousands in Danger, Violate International Law

(New York, February 13, 2004)—Dutch proposals to deport thousands of failed asylum seekers put their safety at risk, Human Rights Watch said today. The Dutch parliament is expected to adopt the proposals in a final vote next week.

" The Dutch government claims that the proposals are safe and humane. But sending people back to places where they could be in danger not only jeopardizes their safety, it is illegal. "
Rachel Denber  
Acting Executive Director  
Europe and Central Asia Division
The Dutch government’s proposals to deport as many as 26,000 failed asylum seekers, which would violate international standards, signal a serious departure from the Netherlands’ historic role as a leader in human rights protection in Europe, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Dutch Immigration Minister Rita Verdonk.  
The failed asylum seekers—including children—would be deported over the next three years. Many have been in the asylum process for years, and include Somalis, Afghans, Chechens, and stateless persons. Human Rights Watch is concerned that sending people back to states without a functioning government, such as Somalia, or to states otherwise insecure due to continuing post-conflict violence, like Afghanistan, would place their safety at risk.  
“The Dutch government claims that the proposals are safe and humane,” said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Europe and Central Asia Division. “But sending people back to places where they could be in danger not only jeopardizes their safety, it is illegal.”  
Human Rights Watch raised concern about whether returns effected from proposed “departure” centers could be genuinely voluntary, and urged the government to ensure that the International Organization for Migration, a partner in so-called voluntary returns, observe international human rights and protection standards in all its operations.  
“The Dutch authorities have apparently decided that a ‘clean sweep’ would be the most efficient way to rid the Netherlands of failed asylum seekers,” said Denber. “For years, asylum seekers endured an inefficient asylum process—they worked, went to school, raised families, and waited. Threats to their safety and well-being are the price they’ll be forced to pay for the past mistakes and abuses inherent in the Dutch system.”  
Human Rights Watch also criticized the Netherlands’ treatment of asylum seekers’ children and unaccompanied minors; plans to attempt to deport stateless people and others unable to access proper documentation, including their possible detention; and proposals to evict and end social assistance for those subject to the deportation scheme, including families with children.  
In an April 2003 report “Fleeting Refuge: The Triumph of Efficiency over Protection in Dutch Asylum Policy,” Human Rights Watch documented serious abuses in the Dutch asylum system. The current deportation proposals represent a further degradation of the Netherlands’ commitment to the right to seek asylum and the principle of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of people to countries where their lives or freedom could be threatened.