Netherlands sees substantial drop in Middle Eastern refugees

Decline leaves about 40% of emergency beds empty at cost of almost €1.7m a week

Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party: A new poll shows the party is down six percentage points from its peak when the refugee crisis was at its most severe. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party: A new poll shows the party is down six percentage points from its peak when the refugee crisis was at its most severe. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

 

A substantial drop in the number of refugees from the Middle East arriving in the Netherlands has left about 40 per cent of the beds in emergency accommodation centres empty – at a cost to the Dutch taxpayer of €237,000 a day or €1.7 million a week.

New figures show that while 4,789 migrants – many of them fleeing the civil war in Syria – arrived in the Netherlands during the month of July 2015, the number of new arrivals in July 2016 had halved to 2,260, according to the refugee settlement agency COA.

The agency says that, of the 52,676 emergency beds it set up at the height of the immigration crisis last year, when more than a million migrants arrived in Europe, only 32,905 are being used and the remainder – 19,771 beds or 37 per cent – are lying empty.

The cost of providing and maintaining a refugee centre bed – including electricity, gas, water and caretaking – is calculated at an average of €12 a day. This means the total cost of maintaining the 19,771 unused beds is €237,252 a day or €1.66 million a week.

Violent clashes

The Dutch ministry for justice has called a meeting with the refugee agency next week to discuss the fall-off in demand – and the escalating cost of maintaining the beds.

The agency is expected to close 15 emergency reception centres in the next few weeks, shedding temporary staff employed to help cope with the anticipated influx – and plans for new centres, many of which are highly controversial with local residents, are to be put on ice. However, it’s the patchy manner in which the emergency accommodation was provided in the first place that has left people in many parts of the country doubly bemused now.

One nursing home in the town in Winterswijk, in the east of the country, spent time and money preparing a 200-bed wing to receive refugees, but none ever arrived.

Similarly, a new reception centre is being built in the town of Ede, which has a number of empty centres in its hinterland. It’s not clear, even to the authorities, what has caused the drop in new arrivals. But there have been several violent clashes over the past year between police and people protesting against immigrant centres in their areas.

In one town, riot police had to fire shots over the heads of a crowd threatening to overrun a council meeting. In another, residents asked their council to dig up the footpath in front of their homes because they believed migrants walking past – to the shops – would devalue their properties.

The increase in refugees arriving led to a spike in support for Geert Wilders and his right-wing Freedom Party, whose popularity peaked last February when polls showed it could win 42 seats in the 150-seat parliament – making it by far the largest party.

However, a new poll shows the Freedom Party now down six percentage points or nine seats – though it would remain the largest party, with 22 per cent of the vote, if an election were held tomorrow.