Doctors Without Borders takes historic decision to deploy team to Ter Apel refugee centre

Doctors Without Borders takes historic decision to deploy team to Ter Apel refugee centre

On Thursday morning, Doctors Without Borders - known as Artsen zonder Grensen (AzG) in the Netherlands - announced it would be stationing a small team outside the Ter Apel refugee reception centre in order to offer medical aid and assistance to asylum seekers. This marks the first time that the international organisation has provided aid in the Netherlands.

Hundreds of refugees at Ter Apel without beds, forced to sleep outside

The decision comes after weeks of scandal have plagued the centre, which is located in the village of Ter Apel in the province of Groningen, near the German border. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the refugee registration centre has become overcrowded, and is now required to organise shelter for more asylum seekers than it has room for. 

Due to a lack of available housing and accommodation options, as well as a backlog at the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) which has led to delays in processing applications, those arriving seeking shelter in the Netherlands have been left without a roof over their heads.

In concrete terms, this has meant that every night for the past several days, hundreds of refugees have been sleeping outside. The local Security Region says the high number of people sleeping outdoors has resulted in “many mutual irritations and tensions…which has already led to conflicts, large fights with stabbing weapons, injuries and arrests on several occasions."

Death of three-month-old refugee shocks the Netherlands

This week also saw news break of the death of a three-month-old baby who was temporarily staying at Ter Apel. The baby is reported to have passed away in the centre’s sports hall, which is currently being used as accommodation due to a severe lack of beds. 

The death is being investigated by the Health and Youth Care Inspectorate and the Justice and Security Inspectorate, and the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) is calling on State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Eric van der Burg to offer an explanation.

 AzG to offer aid in the Netherlands for the first time

As a result of the dire state of affairs in Ter Apel, AzG has confirmed that it will be deploying a team of five workers who will provide basic healthcare to those staying at the refugee centre. AzG representatives had visited the centre at the end of last week in order to assess the situation, and what they found they compared to the living conditions at the Moria refugee camp in Greece

According to NOS, AzG found that there were no showers and that toilets weren’t clean. The team of scouts also spoke to people who had not been able to wash for a week and were therefore suffering from skin diseases, while others told them that they’d run out of their medications. AzG also found that among the hundreds of people sleeping outside were “pregnant women, children and people with chronic diseases, such as diabetes.”

"If this situation continues, it could lead to serious medical emergencies," AzG said. The team deployed to Ter Apel will treat wounds, infections and skin diseases, dispense prescriptions and provide psychological first aid to adults and children. They’re expected to stay there for between four and six weeks.

AzG director Judith Sargentini called the organisation’s decision unprecedented, telling the Dutch press that “the circumstances in which these people find themselves are inhumane" but emphasising that this is merely a “short-term solution.” In response to the news, Groningen Mayor Koen Schuiling told NOS Radio 1 Journaal it was “a sad low point for our country.”

Thumb: Henk Vrieselaar via Shutterstock.

Victoria Séveno


Victoria Séveno

Victoria grew up in Amsterdam, before moving to the UK to study English and Related Literature at the University of York and completing her NCTJ course at the Press Association...

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