By Merve Ozer, RPM Volunteer Project Voice
This article aims at providing information about the asylum procedure in the Netherlands.
Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” Furthermore, the Geneva Convention on Refugees states that “every refugee has a right to protection.” Based on these international treaties, to which the Netherlands is one of the signatories, a person can get an asylum residence permit in the Netherlands if
- She fears persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, belonging to a particular social group.
- She fears the death penalty, torture, or any other form of inhumane treatment.
- She fears becoming a victim of random violence from the war in the country of origin.
Asylum application procedure in the Netherlands starts in the application center in Ter Apel if asylum seekers entered the Netherlands by land. However, if asylum seekers arrived at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol or a Dutch port, they have to report to the Royal Netherland Marechaussee. Personnel in Ter Apel or in Royal Netherlands Marechaussee records personal information of asylum seekers, take their pictures and fingerprints, and search personal belongings during this initial application. After this procedure, asylum seekers are accommodated either in the reception center in Ter Apel or in one of the other reception centers in the Netherlands depending on the availability of a place to stay for the rest of the asylum procedure.
After the initial application in Ter Apel, at Schiphol Airport, or at a port, asylum seekers have a rest and preparation period in the reception center where they are located. This period usually lasts for six days during which asylum seekers have a medical check-up and are given information about the rest of the asylum procedure by the personnel of the Dutch Council for Refugees. Asylum seekers are also provided with a lawyer by the government who is responsible to assist asylum seekers during the asylum procedure. Asylum seekers can have an interpreter as well during their meetings with the IND (Immigration and Naturalization Service, the official body in the Netherlands which is responsible for assessing all applications from foreign nationals who want to live in the Netherlands), with the personnel of the Dutch Council for Refugees, or with their lawyers.
The Dutch Council for Refugees Nederland [i]
The Dutch Council for Refugees is an organization consisting of around 1.000 paid employees and more than 12.500 volunteers that aim at supporting asylum seekers and refugees during their asylum and integration processes. Personnel of the council provides both asylum seekers and asylum lawyers with legal advice and information during the asylum procedure. At later stages, the council provides refugees also with integration support such as language learning, work, financial literacy, and so on.
Asylum procedure day by day
After the rest and preparation period which takes up to around six days, the official asylum procedure starts.
Day 1: Initial interview or verification interview
An asylum seeker has an official interview with a staff member of the IND and is asked questions about her identity, nationality, travel route, and family.
Day 2: Preparation for a detailed interview
An asylum seeker meets her lawyer to discuss the record of the first interview and to prepare for the second interview which happens on the next day. If there is any information that is missing or incorrectly recorded in the first interview, the lawyer reports it to the IND.
Day 3: Detailed interview
The second interview with an IND official is much more detailed as an asylum seeker is asked questions about why she fled from her country.
Day 4: Talk about the detailed interview
On the fourth day, an asylum seeker meets again with her lawyer to check and discuss the report of the detailed interview. As in the first interview, if there is any information missing or incorrectly recorded, the lawyer reports it to IND.
Day 5: Intended decision
The IND assesses whether an asylum seeker is eligible for an asylum residence permit based on interviews. The IND can make one of the three decisions below:
- An asylum seeker is recognized as a refugee and given a residence permit for five years which allows a refugee to live and work in the Netherlands.
- If the IND announces that more time is needed to further investigate an asylum seeker’s application, an extended asylum procedure starts, meaning that the IND makes a decision within six months and the asylum seeker stays in a reception center in the Netherlands while waiting for the decision.
- An asylum seeker’s application is rejected by the IND, so she is not recognized as a refugee.
Day 6: Viewpoint
After the IND announces its intended decision, an asylum seeker can discuss the decision with her lawyer and write a letter in case she does not agree with the IND’s decision. This letter is called a viewpoint.
Days 7 and 8: Decision
Based on the viewpoint letter, the IND reassesses the intended decision. The result of the reassessment is one of the three options mentioned above. If the decision is still negative, the lawyer may appeal the decision to the court. After the appeal process, an asylum seeker needs to leave the Netherlands if the court approves the IND’s initial negative decision.
Asylum applications: Different tracks
Although the official procedure is defined as described above, the asylum procedure takes up a long time due to the high number of asylum applications received in the Netherlands. Application processing times differ based on the different categories which an application falls into. The IND has the following categories or tracks for asylum applications:
Track 1: Applications of asylum seekers originating from other European countries fall into this track. For example, if someone previously applied for asylum in another European country, her application in the Netherlands becomes a Track 1 application. These asylum seekers have little chance of being granted asylum in the Netherlands.
Track 2: Asylum seekers coming from countries that are considered safe or asylum seekers who have received international protection in another European country are considered in this track. Track 2 applications have also little chance of ending with a positive decision.
Track 1 and Track 2 applications are in line with the European Union’s Dublin regulation [ii] which states that the first country in which asylum seekers arrive in Europe is responsible for registering them and processing their asylum applications. This means that if an asylum seeker arrives in the Netherlands, the IND checks whether she arrived in another European country before coming to the Netherlands and was registered there or filed an asylum claim. If this is the case, then the IND rejects her asylum application in the Netherlands and has the right to send her back to the country where she first entered Europe.
Track 4: This is the 8-day general asylum procedure described above. Track 4 applications have a higher chance of ending with a positive decision.
Processing times in tracks 1 and 2 are relatively short (4 to 13 weeks) as asylum seekers’ applications in these tracks are usually evaluated as negative. However, processing time in Track 4 is long due to a high number of asylum applications and the lack of staff. According to the IND’s statistics, processing time in Track 4 increased from 23 weeks in March 2019 to 29 weeks in December 2019 and 44% of applications were finalized with a decision in December 2019 [iii]. Many applications fall into the extended asylum procedure described above due to the requirement of further investigation, which can take up to 15 months. 2019 statistics of the IND show that processing time in Track 4 extended asylum procedure increased from 41 weeks in March 2019 to 48 weeks in December 2019 and 23% of applications were finalized with a decision in 48 weeks in December 2019 [iv].
There were also Track 3 and Track 5 which were fast-track asylum procedures for applicants coming from countries such as Syria or Eritrea. However, these tracks have been closed since 2018.
In case the IND’s decision is negative, an asylum seeker does not need to leave the Netherlands immediately if she appealed the decision to the court and is waiting for the court’s decision. However, if the court approves the IND’s initial negative decision, an asylum seeker needs to leave the country. It is possible to stay in one of the reception centers in the Netherlands to prepare for the return, but this time period is limited. If asylum seekers, whose applications have rejected, return to their origin countries independently, it is possible for them to receive support from the Dutch Council for Refugees for their return and making a new start in their countries. However, some countries are considered unsafe to return and the council does not provide support to asylum seekers who need to return to those unsafe countries (e.g. Syria, Afghanistan). In these cases, asylum seekers who need to leave reception centers possibly end up on the street which is difficult to sustain as these people do not have the right to work and are at the risk of being arrested by the police or being abused.