The Cabinet cannot restrict family reunification for refugees. Doing so is contrary to the law, the Council of State ruled on Wednesday, NU.nl reports.
The government temporarily set extra limits on family reunification applications to slow the inflow of asylum seekers and relieve pressure on the shelters. Refugees could only apply to bring their family members to join them once they have found a home. Given the housing shortage in the Netherlands, families have to wait around six months longer before being reunited.
The limits on family reunification were one of the measures in the asylum agreement the coalition concluded in the summer. At the time, the overcrowded asylum shelters were a very visible problem because hundreds of people had to sleep outside for nights on end at the application center in Ter Apel. The situation was so dire that Doctors Without Borders stepped in to offer aid – the first time ever the aid organization had to intervene in the Netherlands.
The measure sparked immediate criticism, with lawyers warning that the policy was illegal. Officials from the Ministry of Justice and Security also raised serious doubts. And those doubts turned out to be well founded.
In early December, the court ruled against the Cabinet for the first time in a case brought by a Syrian woman waiting for her children to come to the Netherlands. In the following weeks, more courts ruled against the State in similar cases.
Last month, State Secretary Eric van der Burg (Asylum) suspended the restriction awaiting the Council of State’s ruling.
Almost simultaneous to the publication of the ruling, the Cabinet said it will drop the restriction on family reunification. As a result, about 1,200 people who are entitled to obtain a visa to come to the Netherlands will no longer have to wait until they or their relatives have secured accommodation, the Ministry of Justice and Security said.
“The highest court has spoken. We are carrying out what the court has asked,” a spokesperson for State Secretary Eric van der Burg said. The state secretary said that 1,780 people were restricted by the measure during the period from October 3 to January 11, when the measure was in effect. Some of them have already come to the Netherlands.
He maintains, however, that the restriction on travel in connection with family reunification was necessary in order to create a buffer to introduce a “broader package of measures” to get out of the asylum reception crisis. Now that the restriction is off the table, more measures will be necessary to find enough space for the people who are allowed to come to the Netherlands, according to the ministry.
The idea of the measure was to buy time to better organize the reception process. A major bottleneck in asylum reception is the shortage of housing. It is difficult to find a place for the people who have the right to stay in the Netherlands. As a result, they are forced to stay longer in the shelters, which are already full anyway.
“Given the tightness in the housing market, it is still difficult to find enough suitable houses. This will put extra pressure on capacity in the coming weeks,” said Van der Burg.