A once-grand country hotel in the rural east of the Netherlands has become a cause célèbre in a row between the government and local residents – who say they want to buy it rather than allow it to be used to house some 300 refugees and asylum seekers.
The owner of the hotel in the quiet village of Albergen, about 150km east of Amsterdam, left the premises during the week on the advice of the police as angry demonstrators began to gather in the grounds. The stand-off is yet another refugee-related headache for the government which has been criticised for accepting asylum seekers without having adequate accommodation and for “terrible” conditions at its main “reception centre” in Ter Apel, in the north, which has already passed “saturation point”.
The confrontation in Albergen arose when local people – who had made clear their opposition to converting the hotel – found that the owner had signed a contract with the refugee agency COA to take it over from September 1st. At the same time, they also learned that junior justice minister Erik van der Burg had gone ahead and granted a licence to the COA to convert the premises into refugee accommodation without any agreement with the local community.
They say this is the first time the government has overruled a local authority by designating a site as refugee accommodation, something that has annoyed local politicians as well as residents.
“It’s just not right that the minister can mishandle this entire situation and then dump it in our back yard,” said Ursula Bekhuis, a local councillor with responsibility for housing, representing premier Mark Rutte’s Liberal Party.
A local residents’ committee said on Thursday they hoped to raise the funds to buy the hotel before it was taken over by the refugee agency because they were worried at the imbalance the arrival of 300 refugees would create in a diffuse country community of about 3,500 people.
On Friday, however, the committee was told the purchase contract had already been signed.
The Albergen row is minor compared to the controversy over the main Ter Appel centre, where even the Red Cross has been at odds with the COA over conditions.
Since May the centre has been unable provide adequate accommodation, with hundreds of arrivals frequently forced to sleep outside on chairs or on the grass. The Red Cross intervened and provided tents, but later dismantled them because they were unhappy with “unacceptable levels of hygiene and personal safety”. They said that on the first evening those using the tents were not given any food or drink between 10pm and 1pm the following day.
The children’s ombudsman, Margrite Kalverboer, says children at Ter Apel face “mental neglect and trauma”.