Stern criticism from European Court demands changes in Dutch asylum policy

12 January 2007

Stern criticism from European Court demands changes in Dutch asylum policy

In a judgement issued on Thursday, the European Court of Human Right (ECHR) in Strasbourg made a series of tough, fundamental criticisms of the way in which an asylum request by a Somali refugee was dealt with. SP Member of Parliament and asylum policy spokesman Jan de Wit said that he was pleased with the ECHR’s ruling. “The Court pointed to shortcomings to which we have called attention for some years,” he said. “It seems to me clear that far-reaching changes in policy are needed if we are to comply with this judgement. I will bring these up next week during the debate on the annual budget for the Justice Ministry.”

The Netherlands authorities wanted to return the Somali asylum-seeker to a different area to the one from which he came, on the grounds that it was relatively safe there. According to the Court there must, in the case of an expulsion of this nature, be consideration of whether the area in question can be reached in safety and whether the asylum-seeker can expect safe refuge there. Moreover, the ECHR makes it clear that the Netherlands is operating according to an overly strict standard in judging whether somebody runs a risk of torture or of some other form of inhuman treatment in their country of origin. Jan de Wit agrees. “The Netherlands demands that people prove that they themselves, as individuals, are the subject of a negative form of attention from the authorities. But in some cases people run the risk, as members of a certain population group rather than as individuals, of becoming victims of violence or intimidation by other groups or by the government. Such people should also have a right to protection.”

A further notable point in the criticism concerns the role of the Council of State, the highest legal instance in the Dutch system of dealing with applications for asylum. In the case of the Somali, the Court ruled that the asylum seeker should have been able to take his case directly to the ECHR itself, rather than first having to appeal to the Council of State, because in practice such an appeal had ‘not the slightest chance of success’.“Here the ECHR states in so many words that asylum seekers are wasting their time going to the Council of State. We’ve said the same on many occasions: the Council of State does not reexamine every aspect of the case, but simply looks at it from the perspective of the authorities, questioning only if correct procedures have been followed.”

Lastly, the Court expressed strong criticism of the way in which the Dutch authorities handle information regarding the situation in the refugee’s country of origin. Official reports from the Foreign Ministry are not in themselves a source of information on which to base a judgement regarding a country’s safety, the ECHR states. The Netherlands should also study information from other reliable institutions, such as Amnesty International, the UNHCR, Médécins Sans Frontières, Human Rights Watch and refugees’ groups. “The Court has no time for the arrogant attitude of the Dutch government, which seems to think that the information it gathers itself is quite sufficient. In the last few years we have repeatedly attempted to persuade the minister to listen to at least some of the organisations with knowledge of what is going on in a particular country. Fortunately the government cannot ignore the ECHR’s views as it has ours.”

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