Judge places bomb to tackle nuisance asylum seekers Ter Apel. ‘No legal basis for restriction of freedom’

The approach to nuisance caused by asylum seekers in Ter Apel is in doubt due to a court ruling. It determined on Friday that there is no legal basis for restriction of freedom in the trial availability location (pbl).

This PBL in Ter Apel was set up last year as a pilot to allow asylum seekers with a disadvantaged application to go through the procedure more quickly. During this shortened procedure, they must remain on location 22 hours a day to be available for the process. In the PBL, 30 asylum seekers stay in a separate ‘courtyard’ behind high fences.

In Ter Apel and the municipality of Westerwolde, this approach has been presented as a promising means of combating nuisance. Because most nuisance asylum seekers belong to this group with a disadvantaged application, the PBL should reduce the number of thefts and burglaries in the vicinity of the application center. The municipality has been eagerly awaiting the expansion of the PBL from 30 to 100 places for months.

Algerian asylum seeker vindicated

At the beginning of February, an Algerian asylum seeker appealed against his placement in this pbl. The court in The Hague ruled on Friday that this form of restriction of freedom has no legal basis and that the Algerian must be given access to the regular reception of the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers.

“This ruling could have far-reaching consequences,” says professor of migration law Lieneke Slingenberg of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. “It does not only apply to this one asylum seeker, but also to all the other people who are there.”

Freedom limited to be ‘available’ for procedure

The purpose of the ‘process availability location’ is that the COA can place all asylum seekers who submit a disadvantaged asylum application (for example because they come from a safe country or have previously submitted an application in a safe European country) in the PBL. They do not have to have caused any nuisance, as is the case in the enforcement and supervision location (htl) in Hoogeveen.

According to the Ministry of Justice and Security, the fact that these asylum seekers are stuck for the vast majority of the day is justifiable because they must be available for their accelerated asylum procedure. It would not involve detention, because asylum seekers who do not want to submit to the strict regime of the PBL can leave. They will then lose their right to shelter.

Judge: grounds for restriction of freedom unclear

The court does not agree with this. It is indeed legally possible to oblige an asylum seeker to be available at a designated location for research necessary for the asylum application. But it is difficult to prove that this availability is necessary 22 hours a day. According to the judge, it is ‘unclear on what basis the restriction of freedom also extends to the days or moments when no agreements have been made in the context of the asylum procedure’.

Slingenberg: “In the HTL in Hoogeveen, the freedom of asylum seekers is restricted on the basis of public order and safety, Article 56 of the Aliens Act. Here in the PBL it concerns people who have not yet caused any nuisance, so the ministry tries to justify this with Article 55, which states that the foreigner must be available for investigation. So that doesn’t hold up. I expect this to mean the end of restrictions on freedom in the PBL. Sober shelter and an accelerated procedure remain possible.”

Ministry: ‘We really need PBL’

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice and Security calls the statement ‘very harsh’. “We really need the PBL. We even want to expand it. Our lawyers are studying the ruling to assess the consequences.” The COA also stated that it is still studying the ruling. The shelter organization may appeal.

If the court ruling does indeed sound the death knell for the PBL’s design, it will be a major disappointment for Ter Apel and the municipality of Westerwolde. In the past year, hopes have been pinned on the PBL. This strict approach to underprivileged asylum seekers could finally reduce the years of nuisance in the village, it is expected.

There is already a lot of frustration that the PBL has still not been expanded from 30 to 100 places, as promised by State Secretary Eric van der Burg. The COA has always said that expansion is only possible if the occupancy in the reception center in Ter Apel structurally falls below 2,000 asylum seekers.