As of 2 January 2023, 51,701 people in the Netherlands were entitled to access reception conditions. Only slightly more than half are staying at one of the 77 ‘regular’ reception centres by COA (30,053). The rest is hosted in one of the 90 emergency locations managed by COA (14,707) or other locations such as (crisis)management centres managed by a municipality (6,946). In 2022, as in 2021, one third of the people entitled to receive reception by COA were beneficiaries of international protection (16,160). These figures do not include displaced people from Ukraine. It is important to note that not only newly arrived asylum seekers are staying at (crisis) emergency locations. Asylum seekers who are already staying in the Netherlands awaiting the (start of) their procedure and BIPs can be also placed at (crisis) emergency locations.
Twice a year the COA predicts the capacity it will need in the upcoming period. On 9 November 2022, COA expecting, for the beginning of 2023, to need to house 61,189 people registered to reception. In its report, the COA foresaw there would be a shortage of13,952 places at the beginning of the year, a number that is expected to grow throughout the year, as contracts with municipalities for reception centres are ending and many of them do not want to renew the contracts. At the end of 2023, a shortage of 35,067 places is expected by COA.
On 26 August 2022, the Secretary of State announced several measures to address the reception crisis, often referred to as the ‘asylum deal’. The most important measures are the prolonging of the time period of decision-making (WBV 2022/22), the suspension of family reunification, temporary cancellation of resettlement of refugees under the EU-Turkey deal and the launch of the ‘Spreading law’ (Spreidingswet). In response to the reception crisis, on 8 November 2022 a legislative proposal aimed at distributing the number of reception places in the country was put forward. The Spreading law – as per the currently pending approval text – will ensure that the municipalities are also be responsible for providing sufficient reception places for asylum seekers (article 6 paragraph 1).
Once every two years before 1 February, the minister will announce in the capacity estimate how many reception places for asylum seekers will be needed in the following two years (Article 2 paragraph 1). These places are divided among the twelve provinces that will discuss with the municipalities how these places are divided. Before 1 September, the minister will decide on the basis of the reports from the provincial discussions what the minimum number of required reception places is for the next two years, which will be divided over the municipality designated in the decision (Article 5 paragraph 1). The financial system put in place is very difficult. Municipalities receive different amounts of compensations based on whether they offer accommodations before or after the minister announces the estimated capacity and on the number of years they provide the accommodation for.
The Dutch Council for Refugees’ response to the consultation identified the following issues in the bill: (1) The distribution and reward system makes the law extremely complex and administratively cumbersome; (2) little to no attention is paid to the importance of buffer capacity and prevent downscaling reception capacity; (3) monitoring of the division of responsibility is insufficiently guaranteed; (4) a quality framework should be anchored in the law; (5) more attention should be paid to the realization of small-scale reception facilities; (6) the relationship with other laws and context is not sufficiently included, for example the relation with the reception regulations for displaced people from Ukraine (7) attention should be paid to the long-term commitment with a parallel approach for the short term. Finally, the Council for Refugees argued that for the nearly 20,000 people who are currently staying in conditions that do not comply with the (international) rules that the Netherlands must adhere to, acute state emergency law or urgent legislation is required.
Central Reception Centre (COL)
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). 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. Vulnerable asylum seekers such as children do not stay at JCS.
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. In 2022, the location of Ter Apel reached its full capacity multiple times, resulting in asylum seekers sleeping outside on the grass and being sent all over the country – see A1. Criteria and restrictions to access reception conditions. On 10 September 2022, the Ministry of Defence opened a special location at Marnewaard to house asylum seekers who are still going through the registration process in Ter Apel. This location, also called ‘the waiting room’ has a capacity of 600. Asylum seekers do not stay for longer than a week at Marnewaard.
Asylum seekers whose request is dealt with in Track 2 are only entitled to ‘austere’ reception (sobere opvang) as of September 2020. During 2020, many asylum seekers stayed at the ‘austere’ reception centre (which is a separate fenced building on the same site of normal reception centres in Ter Apel and Budel). Vulnerable asylum seekers are exempted from staying at the fenced separate ‘austere’ reception building, but they receive an ‘austere’ regime at a normal reception centre. Both the asylum seekers staying at the separate ‘austere’ reception centres and the vulnerable ones have to report their presence daily, do not receive financial allowances and are given frozen microwave meals. Following the Council of State ruling on the risk of treatment in violation of Article 3 ECHR upon return to Greece for international protection beneficiaries, regional courts decided that beneficiaries of protection from Greece could no longer be obligated to stay at the ‘austere’ reception centres since their applications are no longer chanceless. In 2022, no separate ‘austere’ reception centre was used, as no municipality made one available. For 2023, COA might open another ‘austere’ reception centre in a former prison in Almere.
Emergency locations (Noodopvang)
Emergency locations are temporary locations, managed by COA. Locations differ from sport and event halls, boats, cruise ships, pavilions, hotels, former schools former office buildings and in former COVID-19 test locations. Many of these locations house more than 500 people. Two cruiseships in Amsterdam and Velsen both house 1000 people.
In 2021, Afghan evacuees have been located on sites provided by the Ministry of Defence, as many of the evacuees were its former employees. One of these was a large camp with tents in the woods close to Nijmegen called Heumensoord, hosting 1,000 people. This location was used during the 2015 reception crisis and was often criticized. The National Ombudsman and the Human Rights Committee went to visit Heumensoord in September 2021 as a follow-up to their 2016 visit. These parties recommended the government to close down Heumensoord as soon as possible, most importantly before winter, since the camp was not deemed good for the safety and (mental) health of the residents. The Secretary of State finally moved Afghan evacuees still living in tents at Heumensoord to another site at the end of January 2022 placing them in other emergency locations. At another site in which Afghan evacuees were located (Harskamp), the residents of the village started protests against their arrival on 24 August 2021. Initially quite peaceful and counting only 250 demonstrators, the protest became much more violent in the night, when the few participants left set fire to car tires.
Crisis Emergency Locations (Crisisnoodopvang, CNO)
The first Crisis Emergency Locations opened in May 2022. Crisis Emergency Locations are managed by municipalities or Security Regions (Veiligheidsregio’s), they are even more temporary than emergency locations and may sometimes only house people for up to 2-3 days. This means that people have to move from place to place.
COA provided a guide for municipalities on managing CNOs. This guide states that very vulnerable people such as pregnant women, baby’s and elderly should not be placed in CNOs – however, this has often been the case in 2022.
Process Reception Centres (POL)
After this stay at the COL, the asylum seeker would normally be transferred to a Process Reception Centre (Proces Opvanglocatie, POL). However, this is not always the case since the start of the reception crisis. Asylum seekers can stay at all kind of locations during their asylum procedure, they might even be interviewed at the reception centre.
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, they receive 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. Among them, limited access to medical care, tension in the centres due to serious concerns about family reunification and a lack of facilities since the (pre-)POL is not designed for a long stay. Additionally, 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.
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.
Due to the large number of asylum applications in 2015, COA was experiencing difficulties in providing accommodation for all the newly arrived 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 decreased from 47,764 at the end of 2015 to 21,037 at the end of 2017. 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, but this number significantly increased in 2021, to reach 36,059 persons residing in COA reception centres managed at the end of 2021. At the end of 2022, the number of BIPs in reception centres decreased, reaching 16,160. This might be due to the measures taken by the government to try to convince municipalities to respect their obligation to house BIPs. The government, however, had forecasted that only 13,500 BIPs would be in need of accommodation in the second half of 2022, this number turned out to be too low. This means that the number of BIPs that need to be housed in the first half of 2023 will be much higher. Moreover, the municipalities have a backlog of about 1,800 BIPs that need to be housed. Therefore, the government decided in August 2022 to urge municipalities to already start housing more BIPs, in order to ‘free up space’ in the reception centres (for more information on the Housing system see: Content of International Protection: Housing) . Another cause of the reduction in the number of BIPs in reception centres could also be that the IND issued less asylum decisions throughout the year.
The COA continuously requests municipalities to provide more locations and places.
Enforcement and Supervision Location (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. This facility is to be distinguished from the Freedom Restricted Locations VBL or GL, where persons subject to return proceedings may be housed.
One HTL in Hoogeveen, opened in December 2017 as an Extra Guidance and Supervision location (Extra Begeleiding- en Toezichtlocatie, EBTL) and became an HTL in February 2020. The location has a capacity of 50 places.
The Inspection of the Ministry of Justice and Security concluded in 2018 that the EBTL had 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 closed and the HTL was opened. 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.
The number of people place in the EBTL and the HTL over the last few years were as follows:
Asylum seekers staying at the HTL are only allowed to go outside for four hours a day, where they cannot leave 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. This was mostly due to the possibility to leave the HTL, even though leaving means that one loses their right to reception.
In August 2022, the Inspection department of the Ministry of Justice and Security paid an unannounced visit to the HTL following the report of a ‘whistleblower’ who notified eight incidents in the twenty days that he worked at the HTL. During this visit, employees and asylum seekers were interviewed. Observations were also made and supervision plans were examined in the information system of COA. Finally, the Inspection requested documentation and camera images. The findings are alarming. The Inspection established that housing supervisors, who work for the COA and the DJI, use coercion and violence. For example, housing supervisors pushed, slapped or kicked asylum seekers and made unauthorized use of handcuffs.
In his response, the Secretary of State indicates that he does not recognize any pattern of disproportionate violence on the HTL. According to the Secretary of State, these cases were isolated and COA always investigates thoroughly when this happens. However, the daily program will be examined.
Administrative placing and lodging arrangement
Administrative placement makes it possible for asylum seekers to live with (first-degree) relatives while receiving allowances and health insurance. Previously, the administrative placement was regulated in Article 13 Rva (old), but this basis has disappeared. However, practice shows that it is still possible in exceptional cases to be placed administratively at the nearest AZC from the place of residence of the family member. The asylum seeker must report to the AZC on a weekly basis. According to the COA’s Provisions Policy, an income check is carried out during administrative placement. If the family member earns too much, the asylum seeker will not receive allowances. Administrative placement of an asylum seeker who is still in the pre-pol is not yet possible. VWN has often pointed out that this practice could be expanded, because more and more people are requesting it and it could be a way to make up space for new asylum seekers.
BIPs staying at a reception centre while waiting to be housed, can stay at a host family for up to three months using the ‘lodging arrangement’. The organization Takecarebnb is connecting and guiding host families and BIPs.
In a debate in parliament the Secretary of State stated that 1,000 people were using either the administrative placing or the lodging arrangement in 2022.
 COA Website: https://www.coa.nl/nl/lijst/capaciteit-en-bezetting, figures are updated monthly.
 Article 3(3) Aliens Act.
 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.
 Council of State, ECLI:NL:RVS:2021:1626 and ECLI:NL:RVS:2021:1627, 28 July 2021.
 E.g. Regional Court Haarlem, 18 August 2021, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2021:9028.
 See for example: NOS, “Ombudsman: zakgeld en privacy voor asielzoekers vanwege lange wachttijden”, 10 March 2020, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/33OOlL1.
 Article 1(n) RVA, Decision of Secretary of State, No 69941, 3 December 2018
 Secretary of State, Letter KST19637 2572, 18 December 2019.
 For example in the case: Regional Court Den Bosch, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2020:4558, 25 May 2020.
 Regional Court Groningen, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2020:6252, 10 July 2020. For a more recent judgement see: Regional Court Groningen, Case nos. AWB 22/6262 en NL22.21029, 11 November 2022..
 Inspection of the Ministry of Justice and Security, ‘Letter on the investigation of the HTL in Hoogeveen’, 13 October 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3jOns5O. See also this report from newspaper NRC, ‘Wat gebeurt er achter de muren van het ‘aso-azc’ in Hoogeveen?’, 11 November 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3vzymz9.