The politicians in Westerwolde have always let the benefits of the asylum center in Ter Apel win over the burdens. But their mood has changed.
This week, most of the municipal councilors in Westerwolde announced that they are aiming for a closure of the asylum center if the situation in Ter Apel does not improve quickly. Never before have they been so outspoken about this weighty measure.
This measure is very important because many jobs are tied to the reception location. Many people from Ter Apel and the surrounding area work in the asylum center itself. But suppliers also earn a good living from it.
It was even because of that employment that the asylum center was opened more than a quarter of a century ago. The NATO depot in Ter Apel was closed, the games factory too, many jobs had been lost. The reception location and the Penitentiary Institution compensated for that loss.
Asylum seekers on the street
In the decades that followed, the councilors of Vlagtwedde (that municipality has been absorbed into Westerwolde) very often weighed up employment against the costs of the location. Because those charges were arranged. In the early years, asylum seekers who had exhausted all legal remedies regularly ended up on the streets of Ter Apel, with all the consequences that entailed. Shoplifting, committed by a small group of asylum seekers, was added later.
The jobs always won in this weighing up, the politicians rarely saw the existence of the reception center to the bone. Only during the asylum crisis of 2015 did that sound sound within the city council.
Images that went around the world
But in recent years, the sentiment has changed little by little. The nuisance, mainly caused by safe nationals, continued, but the asylum center suffered the ‘full brunt’ of the shortage of reception places elsewhere in the country for two summers and autumns. The reception center could not cope with the influx of refugees, asylum seekers slept outside. They were images that went around the world.
The councilors demanded from State Secretary Eric van der Burg that the situation in the village would improve. Last year they even put their demands on paper. They want more application centres, a separate reception center for safe citizens, more asylum places elsewhere, an amended agreement with the COA. Even then it became clear that the scales were tipping to the ‘other side’, that the jobs were no longer sacred.
Dozens of Ter Apelers
Last week the councilors got the final ‘push’. Then consultations with the State Secretary taught them that it is still not clear whether their demands will be met. In addition, dozens of Ter Apel residents visited the council meeting to make it clear that they too are more than fed up with the nuisance after all these years. The pressure on politicians to take action thus became even greater, as did the realization that the burdens now weigh very heavily.
Now they have announced that they want to force the closure of the asylum center through the courts if ‘The Hague’ does not quickly comply with their demands. Whether it comes to that will become clear in the coming months. It is clear that the asylum center and in particular the associated jobs are no longer sacred for Westerwold politics.