Safelanders: they are often part of the news or public debate, but only a small part of all asylum seekers in the Netherlands. Who are safelanders, what do they come here to do and do they put even more pressure on the reception? NU.nl answers the most important questions.
Who are ‘safelanders’?
Safelanders are people who apply for asylum in the Netherlands while they have very little chance of staying here. The term refers to a list of governments that lists countries that have been labeled as ‘safe’.
“Safe” means that citizens in their country are not persecuted on the basis of religion or race. The list has 45 countries, but by far the most people come from Morocco, Tunisia and Georgia.
Why do they want to come to the Netherlands?
Citizens from a ‘safe’ country sometimes also seek protection elsewhere. “Consider, for example, a critical journalist, an lhbtiq+ activist or someone who is fleeing the mafia,” says Martijn van der Linden of the Council for Refugees.
Every asylum seeker has the right to a procedure. But in order to stay, they must be able to demonstrate that they are at risk in their home country. Safelanders can also qualify for this, a spokesperson for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND) confirms to NU.nl.
But there are also asylum seekers from safe countries who abuse our asylum system, says the Council for Refugees. “As the influx decreased after the 2015 refugee crisis, we saw that people kept coming who clearly had no reason to apply for protection, but were using the system to get shelter and living money,” says Van der Linden.
Safelanders receive an accelerated procedure in the Netherlands. On average, 98 percent of them are rejected. They are expected to be deported after seven weeks. Then their right to reception ends and they are not allowed to enter the Netherlands for two years. Some leave themselves, others end up on the street or illegally.
Sometimes they travel on to another European country after a rejection. “They are usually young people in a hopeless situation. They have psychological problems, have been rejected by family or addicted.”
Exactly how many safelanders are there in the Netherlands?
In 2021, almost 1,000 safelanders applied for asylum in the Netherlands, a total of about 4 percent of all 24,740 first applications that year. In 2020 that was still 11 percent. “Because these people have priority over the procedure, they are also rejected more quickly. That makes it unattractive for them to come to the Netherlands,” explains Van der Linden.
According to figures from the Ministry of Justice and Security, approximately 600 people from safe countries were in shelters in July this year. There may be a few more, but not everyone is registered yet.
Why is it difficult to send people back?
The Netherlands is still unable to forcibly deport asylum seekers to Morocco, because that country refuses to take people back. In order to reach an agreement, Morocco and the Netherlands must sit down with each other.
In 2019, that failed when former State Secretary Ankie Broekers-Knol was going to visit Morocco to talk about asylum seekers who had exhausted all legal remedies, but the visit fell through. “It is clear that the Netherlands is not prepared to pay the price that Morocco is asking,” says Van der Linden. “Then it becomes impossible to send people back.”
Asylum seekers from safe countries also come to the Netherlands after they have previously applied for asylum in, for example, Germany. The Dublin Convention ensures that the first country a person arrives to is responsible for the asylum procedure. “What follows is a long bureaucratic process to get Germany to take those back.”
It’s not always difficult. For example, the Netherlands has made clear agreements with Albania, for example, about the return of rejected compatriots here. “Many people were sent back then and since then we hardly see any more asylum seekers from Albania with unsuccessful applications.”
Do safe-landers put extra pressure on the reception?
“Every bed is a bed, especially in view of the current crisis. But it is not the case that they are the cause of the shortage of reception places; the group is far too small for that,” says Van der Linden.
The fact is that a small group of safe residents causes the most nuisance in various asylum seekers’ centers (AZCs), something the Justice and Security Inspectorate warned about last year. The Dutch Council for Refugees also sees this. “There is a small group with no prospect of asylum, who ruin it for the rest.” This concerns incidents such as theft, vandalism, intimidation, threats and stabbings. Municipalities such as Cranendonck and Nijmegen previously took measures against the nuisance.