Country Report: Housing Last updated: 22/05/23


Dutch Council for Refugees Visit Website

If an asylum seeker from a non-Schengen country has arrived in the Netherlands by plane or boat, the application for asylum must be lodged at the AC Schiphol, which is located at the Justitieel Centrum Schiphol (JCS).[1] The application centre Schiphol is a closed centre, which means that asylum seekers are not allowed to leave the centre (see Place of Detention). Asylum seekers are further not transferred to the POL after the application, as is the case for asylum seekers who entered the Netherlands by land and/or lodged their asylum application at the COL.[2] Vulnerable asylum seekers such as children do not stay at JCS.


As of 2020, the total capacity of the Dutch reception system reached 27,800 and the AZCs are full. The COA is thus almost at the maximum responsible occupancy. An even higher occupancy entails risks for the quality of life, manageability and safety of locations. 5,000 extra shelter places are urgently needed. The COA has been asking for this for more than a year,[3] and is therefore preparing for escalation options.[4] Possibilities include hotel accomondation and bonuses for municipalities that quickly accommodate status holders. The last escalation option is the emergency shelter in sports halls. 5,000 additional places have been announced for 2020 to tackle the significant delays in the rest and preparation period and the subsequent length of stay of asylum seekers in reception centres.[5] The reception system is divided into different types of accommodation described below.


Central Reception Centre (COL) and Process Reception Centres (POL)


Asylum seekers who enter the Netherlands by land have to apply at the Central Reception Centre (Centraal Opvanglocatie, COL) in Ter Apel, where they stay for a maximum of three days. The COL is not designed for a long stay.


After this stay at the COL, the asylum seeker is transferred to a Process Reception Centre (Proces Opvanglocatie, POL). There are four POL in the Netherlands: Ter Apel, Budel, Wageningen, Schiphol and Gilze, totalling a capacity of 2,000 places. Neither capacity nor occupancy of COL and POL are registered.


At the POL the asylum seeker will take the next steps of the rest and preparation period and awaits the official asylum application at the application centre. As soon as the asylum seeker has officially lodged an asylum application he or she receives a certificate of legal stay. Due to lack of capacity in the POL, the so-called pre-POLs have been opened. Often these are located at the site of an AZC, but the people staying at the pre-POL will have the same (limited) facilities as asylum seekers at the POL, so they will have different access to medical care and language lessons, and no weekly allowance. The Dutch Council for Refugees reported that the excessive waiting time in the rest and preparation period (up to two years) has serious consequences regarding the material reception conditions and mental health of asylum seekers, such as access to medical care, tension in the centers due to serious concerns about family reunification and a lack of facilities since the (pre-)POL is not designed for a long stay.[6] Also, The Dutch Council for Refugees and the Ombudsman fear a set-back in integration possibilities for applicants since there is no or limited possibility to perform volunteer work or get access to language education.[7]


Centres for Asylum Seekers (AZC)


An asylum seeker remains in the POL if the IND decides to examine the asylum application in the regular asylum procedure (within eight days). If protection is granted, the asylum seeker is transferred to a Centre for Asylum Seekers (Asielzoekerscentrum, AZC) before receiving housing in the Netherlands. If the IND decides, usually after four days, to handle the application in the extended asylum procedure, the asylum seeker will also be transferred from the POL to an AZC. At the end of 2020, there were 27,846 persons residing in reception centres managed by COA.[8]


Due to the large number of asylum applications in 2015, COA was experiencing difficulties to provide accommodation for all asylum seekers. Creative solutions were needed, for example emergency reception centres and allowing refugees with a residence permit to reside with family and friends. The number of people in reception centres has decreased from 47,764 at the end of 2015 to 21,037 at the end of 2017.[9] Therefore, such solutions were no longer needed. However, due to the long waiting times at the IND, applicants spend longer periods in the reception centres. In addition, more and more beneficiaries of international protection have to stay in the reception centres awaiting to be housed. At of the end of 2020, 7,762 beneficiaries of international protection were staying in COA locations.[10] The COA continuously asks for more locations and places. The Secretary of State mentioned in a letter that 95% of the capacity is reached by the COA, which means that the need for more locations is very pressing.[11] When new locations will not be found, COA has to recede to emergency reception centres, for examples in sport halls, again.


Handhaving en Toezichtlocatie (HTL)


The Enforcement and Supervision Location (Handhaving en Toezichtlocatie, HTL) was installed as a special reception centre for asylum seekers who have caused tension or any form of nuisance at an AZC, for example by bullying other inhabitants, destroying materials, exhibiting aggressive behaviour or violating the COA house rules. Minors aged 16 or more can also be transferred to these locations.[12] This facility is to be distinguished from VBL or GL, where pFreedom of Movementersons subject to return proceedings may be housed.


The rules in these centres are stricter than in a regular AZC; inhabitants are obliged to report whenever they leave or return to the centre. There are also compulsory day programs during which asylum seekers have limited opportunities to communicate with the outside world. [13]


There is one HTL in Hoogeveen, which opened in December 2017 as an EBTL and became a HTL in February 2020. The HTL has a capacity of 50 places.[14]


At the end of 2019 an evaluation of the EBTL took place. It concluded that this type of reception has not been effective in changing the behaviour of violent applicants. This is partly due to the fact that these applicants often have mental disorders and psychiatric problems. As a result, the EBTL was be closed.[15] The difference between the EBTL and the HTL is that the HTL objective is no longer to change the behaviour of the applicant. Applicants placed in the HTL will get a stringent area ban and a compulsory day programme. For example, asylum seekers are only allowed to go outside for four hours a day, where they can only stay on a small grass field. Several lawyers have argued that asylum seekers are illegally deprived of their liberty in the HTL. However, the Regional Court of Groningen conducted an on-site investigation and concluded that placement in the HTL is not contrary to Article 5 ECHR.[16] This was mostly due to the possibility to leave the HTL, even though leaving means that one loses his right to reception.


[1]Article 3(3) Aliens Act.

[2]Asylum seekers who are not stopped at an international border of the Netherlands and want to make an asylum application have to go to the COL in Ter Apel, even if they initially came by plane or boat.

[3]COA, ‘COA: 5.000 nieuwe opvangplekken nodig in 2020’, 8 november 2019, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/2RYuuo9 .

[4]Letter of the Secretary of State, 19 637, Nr. 2684, 24 November 2020.

[5]COA, ‘COA: 5.000 nieuwe opvangplekken nodig in 2020’, 8 november 2019, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/2RYuuo9 .

[6]Dutch refugee Council, Gevangen in een vastgelopen asielsysteem:  Gevolgen en verhalen  uit de praktijk, November 2019, available In Dutch at: https://bit.ly/2vSP2pW .

[7]See for example: NOS, “Ombudsman: zakgeld en privacy voor asielzoekers vanwege lange wachttijden”, 10 March 2020, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/33OOlL1.

[8]COA, Bezetting, available in Dutch at: http://bit.ly/2E95a6F.

[9] Ibid.


[11]Answers to questions of MP Becker by the Secretary of State, KST 730, 9 November 2020.

[12]Article 1(n) RVA, Decision of Secretary of State, No 69941, 3 December 2018

[13]Article 9 (7) RVA

[14]COA, Extra begeleiding en toezichtlocatie, available in Dutch at: http://bit.ly/2Bs9QBB.

[15]Secretary of State, Letter KST19637 2572, 18 December 2019.

[16]Regional Court Groningen, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2020:6252, 10 July 2020.

[17]However, this might be possible in the future with the introduction of the EBTL locations to which asylum seekers aged 16 years old or more can be transferred to.

Table of contents

  • Statistics
  • Overview of the legal framework
  • Overview of the main changes since the previous report update
  • Asylum Procedure
  • Reception Conditions
  • Detention of Asylum Seekers
  • Content of International Protection
  • ANNEX I – Transposition of the CEAS in national legislation