By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
However, despite the controversy, authorities claim that cruise liners are the best way to end an accommodation crisis for asylum seekers.
Take the MS Galaxy. Once upon a time, it hosted tourists on the Stockholm-Turku route crossing the Baltic sea.
But now, stunned residents in Amsterdam watch in amazement as the luxurious cruise ship arrives at the city’s main port to accommodate migrants seeking asylum.
The Dutch capital is the second city in the Netherlands to approve government plans to put migrants on cruise liners.
City authorities estimate that about 1,000 people will be accommodated and fed on board the MS Galaxy and be able to get on and off the ship anytime.
The Dutch Asylum Seekers Reception Centre, or COA, is responsible for the ship’s residents. COA site manager Peter Deinum is happy with the facilities. “This is the grill house where migrants can enjoy their time. And look, we have cabins like this,” he told visiting reporters.
“You can see it has four beds with a toilet and shower, but two persons will live here,” he added proudly. “So it’s a beautiful way to accommodate asylum seekers, and we’re very thankful for that.”
Some of the asylum seekers seem happy too. Controversial social media footage has emerged of the new cruise ship residents enjoying extensive buffets and several course meals.
In the video, they also emphasize the apparently luxurious surroundings.
That’s outraged several politicians, including Fleur Agema of the anti-Islam Party for Freedom (PVV) party, who confronted the liberal-leaning government in Parliament.
“We have elderly people who can’t go to the doctor and even face starvation. In some cases, police have to pick them up, even naked, because there’s no care for them or adequate accommodation,” she noted angrily during a recent parliamentary debate in The Hague.
“But at the same time, there’s a cruise ship where migrants receive three meals daily and five different choices. They have heating and a nice place to stay. So when will the responsible minister take her job seriously and care for our elderly and most vulnerable people?” Agema wondered.
At least 1.1 million Dutch people are predicted to plunge into deep poverty because of higher prices for food and energy due in part to the war in Ukraine. De Voedselbank (Food Bank) says it struggles to provide enough food and other necessities to the growing number of Dutch people in need.
But cruise ships for migrants will be around for some time in this maritime nation.
Outside Amsterdam, the Silja Europa, another cruise liner that will accommodate 1,000 asylum seekers between now and February, has arrived in the town of Velsen-Noord, in the province of North Holland.
Prime Minister Mark Rutte says the ships are needed to end the dire situation at an asylum reception center in the remote northeastern village of Ter Apel.
Hundreds of migrants have had to sleep outdoors in unsanitary conditions there. Sometimes scuffles break out as they search for a place to sleep.
And many fall ill. Dutch authorities have been investigating the death of a 3-month-old infant at the overcrowded makeshift shelter amid conditions aid agencies called “inhumane.”
Mohammad Ali, a 34-year-old Syrian asylum seeker, is shocked by the circumstances. “Unfortunately, I’m surprised by the bad conditions here because I didn’t hear about it,” he said, visibly upset when looking at the tents and many sleeping rough.
MIDDLE EAST COUNTRY
“If I had heard and seen it before, I would not have come here. Because, as I told you, I think I’m in a Middle East country, not in … Holland.”
Aid workers have begun providing pasta and salad, saying many migrants have only received bread and french fries for weeks.
Even the international aid group Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is now active in the Netherlands, which is supposed to be a rich country. “Why? In 40 years of our existence in the Netherlands, we are, for the first time, active in a crisis like this in the Netherlands,” confirmed its national director Judith Sargentini. “How did it come to this? I would say, government neglect, not enough investment in capacity for refugees,” she added as crowds of migrants struggled to find help.
Yet the presence of aid workers has been reassuring for Tamador Kadour, another refugee from Syria. “I am not very happy when I see sick women outside, pregnant women. I am so sad about them,” she said.
“I hope they will get a better place soon. I came here when I was nine months pregnant. I was lucky because they took me inside directly for the safety of the mother and the baby. They arranged everything for my baby and me,” Kadour recalled.
She’s among the few lucky ones: The country’s immigration service has not yet responded to almost 30,000 people who’ve applied for asylum in the Netherlands.
Authorities link the difficulties to a backlog stemming from the European refugee crisis in 2015 and many more refugees fleeing countries such as Afghanistan and Ukraine. With many other asylum seekers expected, cruise ships and other temporary accommodations won’t be enough to solve the crisis facing the Netherlands.
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