Dutch election candidates make migration a key campaign issue in the crowded Netherlands

Asylum seekers leave the reception center Thursday in Ter Apel, north eastern Netherlands. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)

TER APEL, Netherlands — It is a familiar sight in this remote rural town: a migrant in a headscarf and thick winter coat carrying her belongings to the overcrowded reception center as a storm brews over the flat landscape.

For many here and across this nation once known as a beacon of tolerance, it is too familiar.


“Immigration is spiraling out of control,” Henk Tapper said while visiting his daughter in Ter Apel two weeks before the Netherlands votes in parliamentary elections on Nov. 22.

Candidates across the political spectrum are campaigning on pledges to tackle migration problems that are crystallized in Ter Apel, just over 200 kilometers (120 miles) northeast of Amsterdam. Once mostly known for its monastery, the town has now become synonymous with Dutch struggles to accommodate large numbers of asylum-seekers.

In the summer of 2022, hundreds of migrants were forced to sleep outside because the reception center was full. The Dutch branch of Doctors Without Borders sent a team to help the migrants, the first time it was forced to deploy within the Netherlands.

The center still is overcrowded and locals complain of crime and public order problems blamed on migrants who wander in small groups through the village.

It is not only asylum seekers, though. Political parties also are pledging to crack down on labor migrants and foreign students, who now make up some 40% of university enrollments.

Tapper said he plans to vote for anti-Islam lawmaker Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party which advocates a halt in asylum seekers and opting out of EU and United Nations agreements and treaties on refugees and asylum.

The migration debate in the Netherlands echoes across Europe, where governments and the European Union are seeking ways to rein in migration. Italy recently announced plans to house asylum seekers in Albania.

In Germany, the center-left government and 16 state governors have agreed on a raft of measures to curb the high number of migrants flowing into the country. They include speeding up asylum procedures and restricting benefits for asylum-seekers.

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