Which Barriers do Asylum Seekers with Disabilities Face in The Netherlands? - Dutch Coalition on Disability and Development

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Published on: October 27, 2020

In the article below, Gerlinde Schmidt sheds light on the situation of asylum seekers with disabilities in The Netherlands – a topic which generally receives little attention and still has many ‘unknowns’. This year Gerlinde successfully completed her studies, with her thesis on disability inclusion in the Dutch asylum procedure, while doing her internship at DCDD. If you would like to know more about becoming an intern or volunteer at DCDD, feel free to contact us at dcdd@dcdd.nl.

Which Barriers do Asylum Seekers with Disabilities Face in The Netherlands?
Disability Inclusion in the Dutch Asylum Procedure
by Gerlinde Schmidt

Displaced persons with disabilities belong to the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in the humanitarian setting. Yet, in their seek of refuge and protection, persons with disabilities are often overlooked in the policy responses and support mechanisms of their host- governments and face numerous barriers. Barriers that vary from a deficiency of adequate support to the inaccessibility of services such as facilities, information and/or the absence of sufficient access to medical care (e.g. rehabilitation, care or mobility- and hearing assistance) or services such as sign language and support, impacting their wellbeing, dignity and claim of asylum. 

The Netherlands
Whilst The Netherlands must protect and ensure the rights of asylum seekers with disabilities under several binding and non- binding Conventions and Directives, little is known about the situation of asylum seekers with disabilities and the topic receives hardly any attention in public discourses. Additionally, the lack of transparency through the absence of data and reports make it difficult to assess their situation and shed more light on the multifaceted issues that may hinder asylum seekers with disabilities in The Netherlands to exercise and realise their rights and full potentials. 

Over the last months I have interviewed stakeholders and gathered stories of people who have claimed asylum in The Netherlands (as much as Covid-19 restrictions allowed it), to learn more about the situation of asylum seekers with disabilities, by specifically examining the reception and accessibility of services. 

Reception 
The Dutch asylum procedure has several methods in place to identify and assist asylum seekers with disabilities, to establish grounds for special procedural guarantees and to ensure accessibility. However, through my research it became apparent that many methods are applied in an ad-hoc manner and in one way or another lack standardisation and supervision, which as a consequence may overlook people who need assistance as well as impact people’s claim of asylum and well-being. 

Yet, asylum seekers with disabilities who are subject to the Dublin procedure, arrived from a safe country of origin or are registered in another European member state, certainly seem to be disproportionately affected. A vital phase for authorities to determine the right to special procedural guarantees on grounds of disability is the ‘rest and preparation period’, which takes place shortly after asylum seekers’ arrival in The Netherlands. However, asylum seekers who are subject to the Dublin Procedure, arrived from a safe country of origin or are registered in another European member state are not allowed to enter the rest and preparation period upon arrival (1). Instead, they often need to wait months or even years for their asylum procedure to begin.This becomes particularly worrying from the aspect of medical care, as a nurse told that only asylum seekers with status are entitled to receive a wheelchair according to their specific needs.

“We had a little girl; she just arrived in The Netherlands and had a severe disability and needed a wheelchair (…). So, we got her a wheelchair in a week, but the wheelchair was not good enough and then it took a long time because she was new here (…). If asylum seekers can stay, they can reach specialized stuff. But if they don’t get status they can only borrow a wheelchair, but it’s not fitted to a person’s body and needs. So there are different stages.” (2)

This indicates that as long as persons do not have legal status in The Netherlands, they can only borrow a wheelchair (which is not customised).

Consequently, asylum seekers with disabilities who are not entitled to enter the rest and preparation period upon arrival, may be at risk of receiving fewer procedural guarantees and support, while anticipating the beginning of their asylum procedure. The research also found evidence that the yearlong wait may discourage people to voice any physical and / or psychological complaints during their first interview with authorities. (3)

Accessibility
Another factor impacting asylum seekers with disabilities is the inaccessibility of both online and offline information. Documents and forms are usually available in different languages, yet according to one interviewee, many people who have difficulties in reading or writing face difficulties in understanding documents and consequently may not disclose information in forms that is important for their asylum procedure. Additionally, many people need to rely on assistance from translators, which increases waiting times e.g. for doctor appointments or interviews. A lot of support comes from families, friends and also volunteers, as texts in easy-to-read or Braille are absent, and websites of authorities are not completely accessible. (4) Moreover, in 2018 The Netherlands Institute for Human Rights voiced its concern that asylum seekers with hearing impairments experienced problems during their asylum procedure because not enough sign language translators were available. (5)

Conclusion
These are just a fraction of the several examples that I have encountered throughout my research that indicate how asylum seekers with disabilities may face barriers in accessing protection and services during their claim of asylum and how they face difficulties in being informed about their rights and to participate equally. Factors that most certainly exacerbate the challenge of claiming asylum on equal grounds with others. 

To eliminate discrimination and achieve sustainable and systemic change that ensures that everyone can enjoy their rights, stronger intersectional policies, advocacy as well as robust research, from both the civil society and governments, are needed to secure the rights of persons with disabilities. 

For further inquiries, please do not hesitate to contact me via: Gerlinde.maria.schmidt@gmail.com

Sources:

  1. Identification of Asylum Seekers with Special Reception and Procedural needs in the Dutch Asylum Procedure, VU Migration Law Series No 16, 2018
  2. Interview with AZC Nurse, 2020.
  3.  Interview with Asylum Seekers, 2020.
  4.  Interview with AZC Nurse and Asylum Seekers, 2020.
  5. Submission to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Netherlands Institute for Human Rights, 2018.

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