The report was previously updated in March 2020.
- COVID-19: asylum procedure suspended: Due to the measures relating to the COVID-19 pandemic, the asylum procedure was suspended from 15 March 2020 up to 28 April 2020. During this period, the registration of asylum seekers was limited to taking fingerprints to search the Dutch and European databases, frisking, searching luggage and taking possession of documents. This process is carried out in the application centre in Ter Apel by the Aliens Police, Identification and Human Trafficking Division (AVIM). After the registration and before they were able to lodge the official application for asylum, asylum seekers were taken to an emergency accommodation in Zoutkamp. They could not freely leave this accommodation. The emergency location was closed on 12 May 2020.
- COVID-19: interviews via videoconference: In order to minimise physical contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, the IND has started conducting videoconference interviews since April 2020. The interviews take place via a secure link for video conferencing. Through this link, the asylum seeker is able to speak with the IND staff members working from Zevenaar, Den Bosch, Schiphol or Ter Apel. Lawyers can also use these facilities. Unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers with medical problems are excluded from videoconference interviews.
- Registration procedure: On 20 October 2020, the Secretary of State presented a draft proposal to amend the Aliens Decree regarding the registration procedure. The proposed amendment will formally establish the registration phase and the registration interview, and will abolish the first interview in the asylum procedure altogether. This entails that asylum seekers will be asked about their asylum motives during the registration interview, when they do not benefit from any legal assistance yet and when they have not had a rest and preparation period. The proposal further entails an amendment to the Regular Asylum Procedure and proposes to shorten the procedure from eight to six days. In addition, a possibility is created to extend the General Asylum Procedure in more situations, for example when asylum seekers change their statements on an essential point. If adopted, the proposal will likely enter into force in 2021, drastically changing the registration phase of the Regular Procedure.
- Task Force IND and delays: As a general rule, the rest and preparation period takes six days after which the actual asylum procedure starts. Since 2018, this period has been considerably extended. In March 2020, 15,350 asylum applications of people who applied for asylum before 1 April 2020 were passed on to a newly established Task Force, with the aim of clearing the backlogs before the end of 2020. The Task Force has not succeeded in doing so. On 18 November 2020, asylum seekers received a letter from the IND which stated that its Task Force would not meet its goal and that the Task Force will continue to decide on the remaining applications in 2021. The aim is to complete these by mid-2021. By 31 December 2020 the Task Force had decided upon 8,200 applications, leaving over 7,000 applications to be decided on to 2021.
- Written interviews: In order to address the backlog of pending cases as described above, a written interview was introduced as a measure to clear the backlogs faster. The IND hopes that by using a form, it will accelerate the decision making on asylum applications. Asylum seekers fill in the form themselves at the IND. Currently, the written interview is limited to asylum seekers with the following nationalities: Syrian, Yemenite, Eritrean, Turkish and Iranian. Unaccompanied minors are not invited for the written interview, as well as asylum seekers with medical issues or asylum seekers who are unable to read or write. Important to note is that the IND will always carry out an interview in person if they cannot decide positively on the asylum application on the basis of the written interview. It is not mandatory to participate in the written interview. If an asylum seeker does not want to fill in the form, a regular interview is carried out. In practice, however, asylum seekers have indicated that they agree to the written interview in fear of having to wait even longer.
- Length of stay in reception centres: Due to the long waiting times at the IND and a delay in housing of status holders, applicants spend longer periods in the reception centres. The Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) still desperately needs 5,000 extra places in 2021 due to this development. COA announced that it is ready to start with urgent measures.
- Reception leniency: Asylum seekers with a rejected asylum request were allowed to stay in the reception centers because of a ‘corona-leniency’ policy until 6 April 2020. This leniency was not applied in later phases of the lockdown.
- Separate and austere reception centres for ‘Track 2’: Asylum seekers whose asylum application is processed in ‘Track 2’ (i.e. safe countries of origin or status holders in another Member State), must – as of September 2020 – stay in separate ‘austere’ reception centres. In this reception centre they receive benefits in kind, they have to report daily, and additional security is present. Asylum seekers who appeal the asylum rejection also remain in the austere reception centre. Children and vulnerable asylum seekers are excluded from the austerity of reception but must adhere to the austerity regime (reporting daily) in the AZC.
- Change of the sanction regime: Following the Haqbin judgment the COA is not allowed to (temporarily) withdraw all of the reception conditions. Therefore, COA announced to start sanctioning with the use of ‘time-out rooms’. Little is known about the use of this sanction so far. Another sanction that has been used throughout 2020 is the placement of asylum seekers aged 16 or more who seriously violated the house rules of reception centres or who demonstrated aggressive behavior in so-called Enforcement and Surveillance Location (Handhaving en toezichtlocatie, HTL).
Detention of asylum seekers
- Border detention after the rejection of an asylum application: The Aliens Act has been amended to ensure that border detention of asylum seekers with rejected asylum applications can be continued. The Council of State ruled that, following the Gnandi and S.J. judgments of the CJEU, the former legal basis for prolonging detention at the border after the rejection of an asylum application at least during the period for lodging an appeal was not valid.
- Questions for a preliminary ruling on the judicial review: The Council of State has referred a question for a preliminary ruling to the CJEU on the review of the detention of aliens on 23 December 2020 (C-704/20). It questions whether judges are obliged to rule on their own motion upon all the conditions of detention, even when the detainee has not complained about certain conditions. The question follows from the Mahdi-case (C-146/14) in which the Council of State did not read this obligation. However, some regional courts did rule on their own motion that – for example – the IND or DT&V had not acted expeditiously.
- Locked up for 21 hours a day in detention: In the context of COVID-19 measures, detainees have been detained for 21 hours a day with 2 persons in 1 cell. No – or almost no – activities were organised during the other three hours. Detainees were allowed to receive visitors or goods from outside the detention centre. Soap was not provided for a long time.
Content of international protection
- Cessation of subsidiary protection status of Sudanese nationals: As of January 2020, the IND no longer considers certain parts of Sudan to be in a conflict that reaches the Article 15c QD-standards. The IND announced that around a hundred statuses are going to be reassessed as they believe that the change of circumstances in Sudan have such a significant and non-temporary nature that the fear of persecution or the real risk of serious harm can no longer be regarded as well-founded (article 3.37g Aliens Regulation). The reassessments are still in process.
- Housing: More people are awaiting housing once they obtained an international protection status. On 4 January 2021 there were 8,398 refugees with a permit residing in COA reception centres, compared to 5,385 at 6 January 2020.
- Family reunification: Since the previous report update not many changes can be reported on the conditions for family reunification in the Netherlands. Family reunification has been severely impacted by the measures against the Covid-19 measures. Many family members who already had permission to reunite were not able to obtain the visa form the Dutch embassies, or could not travel to the Netherlands on the visa that had been issued. The Dutch Immigration Services and the department of Foreign Affairs agreed that family members for whom the permission to obtain visa or the visa itself had expired, were offered new visa directly from the embassy if they could not reach the embassy within three months of expiration. Family members who could not meet that condition were offered an expeditious handling of their subsequent application at the Immigration Office. The focus on proving the identity of the family member and family ties with the sponsor is still the main bottleneck for family reunification. The Council of State ruled that a subsequent application for family reunification of an unaccompanied minor should be done within the regular framework if the unaccompanied minor has reached the age of 18 in the meantime, or has been taken care of by one of his parents. The Council ruled that the circumstances as to why family reunification could not take place during the first application, should be taken into account in the subsequent procedure within the regular framework.
See also: Dutch Advisory Committee on Migration Affairs (Adviescommissie voor Vreemdelingenzaken, ACVZ), Advies over het regelen van de aanmeldfase en het vervallen van het eerste gehoor in de algemene asielprocedure, December 2020, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3ixVwOR.
CJEU, Case C-181/16, Sadikou Gnandi vs Belgium, 19 June 2018.
CJEU, Case C-269/18 (order of the Court), Staatssecretaris van Veiligheid en Justitie vs. C; and J and S vs. Staatssecretaris van Veiligheid en Justitie, 5 July 2018.
Council of State, ECLI:NL:RVS:2020:3061, 23 December 2020.
 Council of State, Decision 201902483/1/V1, 16 September 2019.