TER APEL, the Netherlands—The first departure centre for some of the 26,000 failed asylum seekers whom the Netherlands wants to deport between now and 2007 was opened by Dutch Immigration minister Rita Verdonk on Friday.
The government decided back in February to go ahead with the deportation within the next three years of asylum seekers who arrived in the country before April 2001, when stricter immigration laws were put in place, despite strong opposition from Dutch voters and human rights organisations.
The plan also provoked outrage among many Dutch people as some of the asylum seekers had already lived in the Netherlands for over five years and were fully integrated into Dutch society.
The departure centre is situated in Ter Apel, a village in the northwestern Netherlands a few kilometres from the German border. It was set up for failed asylum seekers who had not voluntarily returned to their country of origin within eight weeks of the setting up of a special departure plan by the Dutch authorities.
Once in the centre, the asylum seekers will have to report twice a day with the help of a special biometric system which checks their fingerprints. They will have another eight weeks to organise their return with the help of the Dutch immigration and asylum authorities.
If the inhabitants of the departure centre still refuse to cooperate they risk detention and then deportation. However, if they do cooperate but a return is not possible despite their efforts, the Immigration ministry will re-evaluate their asylum demand and they could be given a residence permit.
The centre in Ter Apel can accommodate up to 400 people and Verdonk is looking for more locations to put similar centres.
The centres “are a key element in the departure process,” Verdonk told journalists Friday.
The first failed asylum seekers are expected to be placed in Ter Apel in mid-August.