No customers for Dutch asylum centre in Angola

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The Dutch centre for failed asylum seekers in Angola has cost one million euros. It was supposed to house underage Angolan asylum seekers repatriated from the Netherlands. It was opened in 2003, but has hardly been used. Immigration and Asylum Minister Gerd Leers refuses to accept it was a mistake.

The case of the young Angolan asylum seeker Mauro Manuel is still fresh in the memory of the Dutch public. He came to the Netherlands as an unaccompanied asylum seeker when he was nine. He grew up with foster parents but when he turned 18, he was automatically listed for deportation back to Angola.

He spoke fluent Dutch and many argued he had simply become ‘too Dutch’ to be sent back. However, MPs didn’t want to set a precedent and voted against giving him a residence permit. A compromise was reached whereby he applied for a temporary student visa, which he was eventually given.

Civil war
Minister Leers is currently visiting Angola. Despite denials that his visit has anything to do with the Mauro Manuel case, asylum is the most important issue on the agenda of his discussions with the Angolan government. He wants to limit the number of Angolans trying to enter the Netherlands. He also hopes to clinch agreements on the repatriation of Angolans whose Dutch residency applications have failed.

Many young asylum seekers fled to the Netherlands from the 1990s onwards to escape Angola’s civil war. They were often alone, claiming to have lost their parents in the fighting. According to Mr Leers, post-civil war Angola is a totally different place.

“No, there’s no war anymore. The country’s booming […] It’s one of the world’s fastest growing economies, certainly in Africa. I can tell you that people are queuing up in Portugal to work here and that salaries here are at a very decent level.”

Head held high
Nevertheless, there are always Angolans keen to move to Europe, albeit fewer than during the civil war. Mr Leers says the Angolan government recognises that illegal immigrants shouldn’t travel to the Netherlands. The Dutch embassy in Angola is doing what it can, immediately filing criminal reports if forged documents are discovered. It’s also important that Angolans can be sent back without feeling a sense of failure.

“We’re prepared to help Angolans who have spent a long time in the Netherlands return home in a positive way, with their heads held high. We’re also prepared to support them financially and materially. We have to make it clear though that people without proper identity documents and permits are not welcome in the Netherlands.”

Mr Leers is aware that the centre in Mulemba, near Angola’s capital Luanda, has hardly been used. Often this is because ‘unaccompanied’ asylum seekers suddenly appear to have family to go to after all. The minister though is unwilling to admit there has been any miscalculation.

“I think the assessment was good, because the centre has actually prevented a great many people remaining in the Netherlands. The fact that we have this centre here means we can offer people alternative housing and that there’s no longer any necessity for them to remain in the Netherlands and run up extensive costs there. It just appears that the unaccompanied underage aliens whom we send back, aren’t in fact unaccompanied at all, that often their families are waiting for them when the plane lands.”

Mr Leers reckons the asylum centre costs about 100,000 euros per year. He says it costs much more to look after one or two underage asylum seekers for a couple of years in the Netherlands. He calls it a good investment, which shows into the bargain that the Netherlands is not unwilling to help. If it turns out the youngsters don’t need accommodation in the centre, he explains, that’s just the way it is: at least immigrants have been prevented from staying in the Netherlands for bogus reasons.