The Netherlands will double the number of beds and shelters for tens of thousands of asylum-seekers after striking a deal with local authorities, officials said Friday amid a burgeoning refugee crisis.
As Europe grapples with its biggest flow of migrants since World War II, the Dutch government is also freeing up a further 350 million euros ($370 million) for this year to help it meet the challenge.
An additional 42,500 spaces will be created for new asylum-seekers arriving in the country, of which 10,000 will only be available for three to six months.
“Given how many people are coming, it is inevitable that it will only be a modest welcome,” Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters Friday.
A further 24,000 places will be created for people whose requests for asylum have already been granted.
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, a spokesman for the justice ministry told AFP.
But 16,000 of them have already won asylum and are now waiting to be rehoused.
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.
The issue of immigration has sharply divided the Netherlands in recent months, even though the Dutch have largely been known for their tolerant, multicultural society.
Local and national debates on how to handle the crisis 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-Labor 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.
Rutte told reporters earlier this week: “We need to stem the flow of migrants coming to Europe. We can’t continue at the present level.”
He was quoted by the Financial Times as saying late Thursday that “the first step is to make sure the border is controlled.”
“As we all know from the Roman Empire, big empires go down if the borders are not well protected,” he said.
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