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Refuge and Asylum | Netherlands |

Netherlands Introduction Historical Trends Immigration Policy Immigrant Population Integration Policy Citizenship Immigrant Integration Irregular Migration Refuge and Asylum Current Developments References and Further Reading

Refuge and Asylum

Evelyn Ersanilli

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The Netherlands have Interner Link: attracted migrants for centuries. Many of them came voluntarily in search for work, prospects for career advancement or family reunification. Other immigrants, however, were forced to leave their country of origin and came to the Netherlands as asylum seekers.

Asylum seeker at a reception center located in a holiday park in Duinrell 2013: In the first six months of 2014, the Netherlands has registered the largest number of asylum seekers since the first half of 2001. (© picture alliance / ANP)

Soldiers from Eastern European countries such as Poland, who had helped liberate the Netherlands and subsequently decided to stay when their countries of origin came under communist regimes, were among the first post-war refugees. They were later joined by compatriots fleeing those regimes, as well as refugees from around the world. The Netherlands accepts approximately 500 refugees a year who have been selected for resettlement from UN refugee camps. Currently, the major refugee communities are from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia and Bosnia.


For many years the Netherlands received a relatively high number of asylum seekers. In the second half of the 1980s, the number of asylum seekers increased rapidly. In 1980, 1,330 people claimed asylum in the Netherlands; in 1990 this number had risen to 21,210. However, the rise in applications did not mean a rise in the number of refugee permits granted (see Figure 5). From 1987 to 1996, 40 percent of claimants were granted a permit. During the 1980s and 1990s several regulations were implemented to discourage people from coming to the Netherlands to claim asylum. These regulations were not very successful in lowering the inflow of asylum seekers; their number peaked in 1994 at over 50,000.

Legal Framework

Figure 5: Asylum claims and permits, 1980 – 2013 (bpb) Lizenz: cc by-nc-nd/3.0/de/

Refuge and asylum in the Netherlands is governed by the Interner Link: Aliens Act of 2000 (Vw 2000). Under this act, asylum seekers can be granted refugee status if they meet the criteria of the Geneva Convention on humanitarian grounds, or if they are the dependent partner or minor child who fled together with or within three months of a principal applicant.

To decrease the previously long processing times, the Vw 2000 introduced a "48-hour assessment". Within 48 working hours from application, a first decision is made on whether or not a person can be considered for refugee status. The 48-hour assessment is also meant as a deterrent for bogus applicants. During the application process, asylum seekers are housed at special reception centers scattered throughout the country, where they can wait for the outcome of their application and appeals. Asylum seekers get a small weekly allowance and are not allowed to work for more than twelve weeks a year.

After the implementation of the Vw 2000, applications dropped from 43,560 in 2000 to 9,780 in 2004. It is difficult to tell whether this is a consequence of the policy, a decrease in conflict, or an economic downturn. In recent years, the number of asylum requests has once again risen. In the first six months of 2014, the Netherlands has registered the largest number of asylum seekers since the first half of 2001; most asylum claims were made by Syrians and Eritreans.

People granted refugee status receive a renewable residence permit which is valid for one year. After five years, refugees are eligible for a permanent residence permit on the condition that they pass the Interner Link: civic integration exam. If they have not passed the exam, they receive another temporary permit. People who are granted refugee status are housed throughout the country to spread the costs of reception across municipalities and prevent geographic concentration. Every municipality has to reserve a share of its social housing for refugees. It is estimated that almost two-thirds of the refugee population live outside the large urban centers. However, many try to move to the cities eventually, to join compatriots, or because they believe that they will have more opportunities there.


The Netherlands does not have a strict removal policy for asylum seekers whose applications were denied. It is the unsuccessful claimant's responsibility to leave the country. Many people who were denied refugee status consequently stayed on without a legal residence permit, and in 2007, after lengthy debates, the government passed an amnesty law for all asylum seekers who claimed asylum before 2001 unsuccessfully but had not left the Netherlands since and had not committed any serious crimes. Nearly 30,000 people have been granted a permit as a result of this law. This text is part of the country profile Netherlands.



  1. "Asylum seekers" are people who come to the Netherlands to seek asylum. If their claim is accepted, they receive a residence permit. "Refugees" are people who have successfully applied for asylum.

  2. The amnesty was both for people whose claims had been rejected and people still in appeals.


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Dr. Evelyn Ersanilli is a Departmental Lecturer in Migration Studies at the International Migration Institute (IMI) at the University of Oxford. E-mail: E-Mail Link: