Special reception needs of vulnerable persons


Country Report: Special reception needs of vulnerable persons Last updated: 30/04/24


Dutch Council for Refugees Visit Website

Article 18a RVA refers to Article 21 of the recast Reception Conditions Directive to define asylum seekers considered vulnerable.

With regard to the (crisis)emergency locations, the problem with fulfilling special reception needs of vulnerable groups was that medical screening was not consistently and adequately offered in Ter Apel. Therefore, many cases of vulnerable people being place in non-sufficient emergency locations have taken place. For example, someone who had recent breast surgery and back problems and for whom it is not suitable to sleep on a stretcher, a girl with severe kidney disease who needed urgent treatment and heavily pregnant women.[1] The Hague Court of Appeal judgement of 20 December 2022 states that medical screening always needs to be offered and that special needs of vulnerable groups need to be provided.[2]

In the night between 23 and 24 August 2022, a three-months old baby, staying with his family in a sport hall at Ter Apel, died.[3]  The Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) conducted neuropathological research but was unable to determine the cause of death.[4] The Public Prosecutor did not find indications that the death was a result of any criminal offense, and the Inspections of the Ministry of Justice and Security and Health Care and Youth concluded that the available information showed no identifiable relationship between the living conditions in the sports hall at Ter Apel and the death of the baby.[5] According to the Inspections, the COA-location in Ter Apel was insufficiently prepared for the large amount of people that required reception, but despite being ill-equipped, the COA-staff did what lay in their abilities from a humanitarian perspective.[6]

With the exception of specialised accommodation for unaccompanied children, the COA does not provide separate reception centres for women, LGBTQI+ persons or other categories – although there have been calls for their creation. An investigation into the treatment of LGBTQI+  persons and of converts and apostates has been completed in 2021. The researchers concluded that COA does not pursue a target group policy, but that the organisation does pay structural attention to vulnerable groups in reception. [7] With regard to LGBTQI+ asylum seekers, the COA has developed a policy to increase the quality of life at COA locations. Special LGBTI attention officers are available at various COA locations to assist LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and to whom employees can appeal. In addition, COA is committed to promoting the expertise of its employees on the topic. The report concludes that, in comparison to the LGBTQI+ policy, there is less attention in reception for converts and apostates and attention to issues connected to religious freedom is still limited. The researchers recommended opening special LGBTQI+ units, but the COA does not consider it a priority. Additionally, were the COA willing to consider their wishes (e.g. having a room for themselves or living in the same building as other LGBTQI+ persons), it is impossible to address them given the current reception crisis.[8]

However, employees of the COA have to make sure that a reception centre provides an adequate standard of living as the COA is responsible for the welfare of the asylum seekers.[9] In practice, this means that the COA considers the special needs of the asylum seekers. For example, if an asylum seeker is in a wheelchair the room will be on the ground floor. Besides that, if asylum seekers cannot wash themselves, they are allowed to make use of the regular home care facilities; the asylum seeker is entitled to the same level of health care as a Dutch national.


Reception of unaccompanied children

In 2023, UAMs were especially affected by the reception crisis. In the COL location in Ter Apel there is space for 55 UAMs and capacity for guidance of 120 UAMs.[10] Throughout the year this location generally hosted 100-300 UAMs with a peak of approximately 370 UAMs in October.[11]

The overcrowding of UAM facilities in Ter Apel was already alarming in 2022. The Ombudsperson for children raised concern on the situation of UAMs in Ter Apel multiple times.[12] After her visit in October 2022, she reported the following:

“During our working visit last Monday, 300 unaccompanied minors were staying in Ter Apel, while there is room for 55. We encountered a group of about thirty boys and two girls who had been staying in the waiting room of the IND for three days. There was no place for them at the centre. They wait all day in their plastic chair and sleep in another identical waiting room at night on a stone floor or on a chair with a sheet and something that passes for a blanket. They look grey with fatigue. They do not have a bed, nor are there sanitary facilities. They don’t eat enough. They brush their teeth with their fingers in the toilet and there is no shower. And what is stress-increasing, there is no one who can tell them how long it will take before there is room for them.”[13]

Both Inspections of the Ministries of Justice and Security, and Healthcare and Youth set an ‘urgent letter’ with concerns to the Ministry on the situation of the children staying in Ter Apel and on emergency locations, stating that health damage, especially mentally, will occur if the situation will not be improved.[14]

In June 2022, the Working Group ‘Child in AZC’ also published a report on the reception conditions of children in emergency locations, titled ‘Emergency at the emergency locations’.[15] The report shows that children cannot find a safe living environment in the emergency shelters or in Ter Apel, neither physically nor socially. Accessibility of health care and education is often lacking and nutrition became a problem since children are not familiar with the provided Dutch food.

Reports of overcrowding continued in 2023. Stichting Nidos, the guardianship agency, published a joint letter with the COA urgently requesting all municipalities to provide reception places for UAMs.[16] Additionally, the Inspections of the Ministries of Justice and Security, Healthcare and Youth and Education as well as the Dutch Labour Inspection sent another letter to the Ministry on the situation of the children staying in Ter Apel and in emergency locations, in which they conclude that the reception for children does not meet minimal quality requirements. Access to education and health care are insufficiently guaranteed, the child’s individual best interests receive inadequate attention and the overcrowding of locations leads to safety issues.[17] UAMs are residing in Ter Apel for longer than intended, leading to a delayed start of education.[18] Several months later the Inspections recounted their concerns about UAMs in Ter Apel, detailing amongst other things that the housing of UAMs in Ter Apel is structurally full over capacity, and that under these conditions the physical and emotional wellbeing of the UAMs cannot be guaranteed.[19]

In first instance at the court proceeding on the reception conditions initiated by VWN, the court ruled that COA and the government needed to make sure that no more than 55 UAMs would stay in Ter Apel within two weeks.[20] Following this judgement, the State Secretary made (another) special request to the municipalities to provide locations for the reception of UAMs.[21] Only one municipality responded, providing a hotel that could house 60 UAMs. The municipality stated that it provided the accommodation because of the court ruling.[22] Although confirming the seriousness of the situation of UAMs and the responsibility (and blame) of the government, the court in second instanced decided to squash the time limits that were given to the government in first instance.[23]

Due to the shortage of reception places for unaccompanied minors, UAMs from the age of 17.5 are placed among adults in regular AZC’s or emergency locations.[24] There might also be minors placed among adults if the IND does not believe that they are underage (see also section 2.1.1. Application of the Dublin criteria).

Unaccompanied minors from the age of 16 can be placed in the Enforcement and Supervision location (see section above) if they broke the rules.

Unaccompanied children younger than 15 are accommodated in foster families and are placed with those families immediately.

Unaccompanied children between 15 and 18 years old are initially accommodated in a special reception location (POL-amv). Children are guided by their guardian of Stichting Nidos, the guardianship agency, and by the Dutch Council for Refugees. They stay in this POL-amv during their procedure for a maximum of 7 weeks. If their application is rejected, they go to small housing units (kleine woonvoorziening). The small housing units fall under the responsibility of the COA and are designed for children between the age of 15 and 18 years old, often of different nationalities. These small housing units are located in the area of a larger AZC, at a maximum distance of 15km. The capacity of the small housing units is between 16 and 20 children. The total number of children housed in the small housing and the AZC cannot exceed 100.

A mentor is present 28.5 hours a week.[25]  If unaccompanied children receive a residence permit, Nidos is responsible for their accommodation.

The COA had accommodated 5,557 unaccompanied children by the end of 2023, almost twice the number registered at the end of 2022 (3,246) and more than quadruple the number registered at the end of 2021 (1,305).[26]

In December 2023, the Directorate-General on Migration published a quantative analyses of the high number of UAMs arrivals since the summer of 2021.[27] The analysis was based on figures from EUROSTAT, IND figures and the answers to an EMN-questionnaire, and it was accompanied by a qualitative report on the reasons for (increased) arrival UAMs in the Netherlands.[28]   In 2023 (until September), the Netherlands received 13% of the arriving UAMs in the EU. Other member states also saw a high influx of UAMs with an even bigger jump compared to previous years than the Netherlands – for example Germany. The qualitative research identified no clear overarching reason for UAMs to come to the Netherlands as opposed to other EU countries.[29]

In 2022, the Ombudsperson for children also published a report on the duration of asylum procedures of UAMs following a complaint of a UAM whose asylum procedure lasted for 4 years, and recommended that the IND prioritise asylum requests from UAMs.[30]

Protection reception locations

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are extra vulnerable with regard to human smuggling and trafficking. Children who have a higher risk of becoming a victim, based on the experience of the decision-making authorities, are therefore placed in protection reception locations (beschermde opvang). The children live in small locations, with 24/7 professional guidance available. When a child arrives at Ter Apel, the organisation Nidos decides whether they should be placed in the protection reception location, under the responsibility of the NGO Yadeborg, contracted by COA. Their services were inspected by the youth support unit (Jeugdzorg), which led to a report in 2017 establishing that still too many children disappear from these locations.[31] Another research shows that 1,190 UAMs left COA locations without reason (MOB-melding) between 2015 and 2018; 50% of the minors left a protection reception location.[32] More recently, the investigative journalist platform Argos reported that at least 360 UAMs had left reception centres without reason between January 2022 and March 2023, of which 237 disappeared from Ter Apel and 36 from (crisis) emergency locations.[33] Counting from January 2018 to March 2023, a total of 1,807 UAMs have disappeared from reception locations.[34]





[1] VWN, Third Quickscan, 19 October 2022, available at: https://bit.ly/3ZseCuT.

[2] The Hague Court of Appeal (civil department), ECLI:NL:GHDHA:2022:2078, 20 December 2022.

[3] NOS, ‘Geschokte reacties in Den Haag op dood baby Ter Apel, inspecties doen onderzoek’, 24 August 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3XfCAYw.

[4] Openbaar Ministerie, ‘OM: definitief geen aanwijzingen voor een strafbaar feit bij overlijden baby in Ter Apel’, 13 June 2023, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3RX0GGv.

[5] Ibid; Inspectie Gezondheidszorg en Jeugd en Inspectie Justitie en Veiligheid, Het overlijden van een baby in augustus 2022 op de COA-locatie in Ter Apel, May 2023, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3tPtyIB, 11.

[6] Ibid, 5.

[7] Regioplan and Free University, LGBTIs, converts and apostates in asylum reception, 6 October 2021, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3nhpc6K.

[8] Reaction by the State Secretary to the Research on LGBTIs, converts and apostates in asylum reception, 7 December 2021, KST 19637, No 2801, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3tl7JOr.

[9] Article 3 Reception Act.

[10] Inspection Health Care and Youth, ‘Inspecties: Situatie in Ter Apel is uiterst kritisch’ 31 October 2023, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3HngRrv.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Kinderombudsman, ‘Nog steeds sprake van kinderrechtenschendingen in Ter Apel’, 7 november 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3Qq9B1U; Kinderombudsman, ‘Brief aan staatsecretaris Van der Burg over onveilige en stressvolle opvang amv’s in Ter Apel’ 10 October 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3GNMzOj; Kinderombudsman in newspaper NRC, ‘Kinderen in Ter Apel worden verwaarloosd’, Andreas Kouwenhoven, 14 april 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3GQWaVt.

[13] Kinderombudsman, ‘Brief aan staatsecretaris Van der Burg over onveilige en stressvolle opvang amv’s in Ter Apel’, 10 October 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3GNMzOj.

[14] Inspectie JenV en Inspectie Gezondheidszorg en Jeugd, ‘Signaalbrief Kinderen in de opvang’, 16 June 2022, available in Dutch at https://bit.ly/3Qqel7I and Factsheet Emercency Locations asylum seekers, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3k2tjVw.

[15] Werkgroep kind in AZC (o.a. UNICEF en VWN), ‘Noodsituatie op Noodlocaties – Quickscan naar de leefomstandigheden van kinderen in de (nood)opvang’, 20 June 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3GRXesl.

[16] Nidos, COA, ‘Oproep COA en Nidos voor AMV Opvang’ 28 June 2023, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3STWs4e.

[17] Inspection Justice and Security, Inspection Health Care and Youth, Inspection Education, Dutch Labour Inspection, ‘Kinderen in de noodopvang en crisisnoodopvang’ 19 April 2023, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3O07tOr, 2.

[18] Ibid, 4.

[19] Inspection Health Care and Youth, Inspecties: Situatie in Ter Apel is uiterst kritisch, 31 October 2023, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/4bySvsG.

[20] Regional Court The Hague (civil department), ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2022:10210, 6 October 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3wikDjE, para. 7.4.

[21] State Secretary, Letter to municipalities relating to the reception of UAMs, 6 October 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3GSlT00.

[22] Leeuwarder Courant, ‘COA start noodopvang voor minderjarige jongeren in Hotel Aan de Vaart in Appelscha’, 1 November 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3QpUaqC.

[23] Court The Hague (appeal; civil department), ECLI:NL:GHDHA:2022:2078, 20 December 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3Ozwn7V.

[24] This was the case from November 2021 – May 2022 and from November 2022 on, see KST 30573, nr. 195, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3VGp9Qb.

[25] COA, ‘Alleenstaande jongeren’, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3O2gwhL.

[26] COA, “Personen in de opvang uitgesplitst naar leeftijd en land van herkomst”, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3KiETqB, accessed at 11 January 2024.

[27] Directoraat-Generaal Migratie, Kwantitatieve analyse alleenstaande minderjarige vreemdelingen (amv), December 2023, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3HfTvnL.

[28] WODC, Kennisbericht Alleenstaande minderjarige vreemdelingen naar Nederland, December 2023, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3RXluO1.

[29] Ibid; Directoraat-Generaal Migratie, Kwantitatieve analyse alleenstaande minderjarige vreemdelingen (amv), December 2023, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3RXluO1.

[30] Kinderombudsman, ‘Rapport ‘Onderzoek naar een tijdige asielprocedure voor amv’s bij de IND’’, 15 June 2022, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3CwgHvV.

[31] Jeugdzorg, De kwaliteit van de beschermde opvang voor alleenstaande minderjarige vreemdelingen Hertoets, September 2017, available in Dutch at: http://bit.ly/2DCmlw0.

[32] APM (Analyseproeftuin Migratieketen) Report on UAMs leaving reception locations without reason, February 2020, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3HR9yXs.

[33] Argos, ‘Opnieuw honderden vluchtelingenkinderen spoorloos verdwenen uit opvang’, 26 May 2023, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3O1EucW.

[34] Ibid.

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