Dutch to double places for refugees

Protesters march during a silent rally in support of migrants and refugees in The Hague on Sept 12, 2015.
Protesters march during a silent rally in support of migrants and refugees in The Hague on Sept 12, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

THE HAGUE (AFP) - The Netherlands will double the number of beds and shelters for tens of thousands of asylum-seekers in a deal with local authorities, officials said on Friday (Nov 27) amid a burgeoning refugee crisis.

Some 24,000 places will be made available to people who have already been granted residence in the country, while another 42,500 spaces will be created for new asylum-seekers.

Hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty mainly in the Middle East and Africa have landed on European shores in recent months.

Some 46,000 people are already being housed in shelters for asylum-seekers in the Netherlands and a total of about 60,000 refugees are expected to have arrived in the country by the end of the year.

"The government and the local authorities have reached an agreement to confront the problems of housing, education and integration linked to the flow of asylum-seekers into the Netherlands," the government said in a statement.

More money is being put on the table for local authorities to help integrate the new immigrants.

And short-term solutions are also being sought to ensure children can still be educated.

The issue of immigration has sharply divided the country in recent months, even though the Dutch have largely been known for their tolerant, multicultural society.

Local and national debates on how to handle Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II have been tense and emotional, marked by insults and threats.

Riding the wave of discontent, the anti-immigrant Freedom Party of Geert Wilders has seen its popularity soar to record highs in recent weeks.

The ruling Liberal-Labour coalition has sharply divergent views on how to handle the crisis, but is aiming to ensure that the country is not seen as giving lucrative, easy hand-outs to those who cross its borders.

Government officials stressed on Friday that the accommodation being made available would be modest and the "costs for society would be as limited as possible."

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was quoted by the Financial Times as saying late Thursday that European unity could collapse like "the Roman Empire" over the crisis.