Behind the gates of the asylum seekers’ center Cranendonck is a road that is so long that the end is difficult to see. For some asylum seekers there is hope there, for ‘safe countries’ virtually nothing. And yet they come here, because what have they got to lose in this no man’s land between a residence permit and a plane ticket home? Nothing, indeed.
This has recently been noticeable in the asylum seekers’ center in Budel, a village in the Brabant municipality of Cranendonck. In the past three months, six serious violent incidents took place in or around the center in which 1,500 asylum seekers are received. Four of the incidents were stabbings. According to a spokesperson for the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA), the people involved were mostly young, male safelanders. These are asylum seekers from countries such as Tunisia and Morocco who hardly stand a chance of obtaining a residence permit. Some of them often cause problems in Budel, but an explosion of violence like this has never happened before, says the COA. The police say they do not register whether reports have a link to the asylum seekers’ center or not.
Also read: Emergency regulation at and around asylum seekers center Budel after a series of stabbing incidents
The mayor of Cranendonck, Roland van Kessel, now says he wants to “do everything he can” to guarantee the safety of the residents and employees of the asylum seekers’ center, as well as those of the local residents. On Tuesday evening, he instituted an emergency ordinance that will apply in and around the asylum seekers’ center until mid-February. Those who are there are not allowed to carry objects that could be used to injure people. The police can also send people away. On Thursday evening, Van Kessel designated the area as a security risk area, in which the Public Prosecution Service can give the police the authority to carry out preventive searches. And next week the mayor will talk to the State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, Eric van der Burg (VVD).
Vegetables, slippers and kitchen utensils
Fadi Dahood (25), who fled Syria, did not receive much from the violent incidents, he says in front of the entrance gate of the asylum seekers’ center in Budel. But he hardly ever leaves his room in the asylum seekers’ center. He doesn’t feel safe outside. A friend of his was robbed of his phone on the property, and a friend of her wallet. “I actually only go out among the other residents if it is necessary, or to smoke shisha,” says Dahood. In his hands he has a new box of hookah tobacco that he has just bought: apple flavor. “My favourite.”
In front of the entrance to the asylum seekers’ center is a white van, which is packed with vegetables, slippers and kitchen utensils, among other things. The van belongs to Stief Maaz (42), who also once fled Syria and now lives in Utrecht. A few times a week he is here with his small supermarket and then he hears and sees a lot. “I understood that one of the stabbings was about cigarettes. One asked the other for cigarettes, who said he had no cigarettes and was eventually stabbed in the stomach.”
According to Maaz, other types of crime also take place around the asylum seekers’ center. For example, he sometimes catches asylum seekers stealing from his shop. To illustrate, he tucks his hand under his jacket at chest height. “And I am regularly offered a luxury bike here for 10 or 20 euros.”
It is unclear what exactly is the cause of the recent wave of violence in and around the asylum seekers’ center in Budel, according to Mayor Van Kessel and the COA. In Budel and the asylum seekers’ center in Ter Apel, a trial was run by the Ministry of Justice and Security with sober reception for asylum seekers from safe countries. As a result, there were temporarily more safelanders in Budel and Ter Apel than usual. But the trial started as early as September 2020 and ended last December. The safelanders were received separately from the other asylum seekers and received, for example, food and clothing, but no money. The idea was that this would discourage residents of safe countries from applying for asylum in the Netherlands.
Local politicians want the mayor to take more drastic action against the violence: VVD, CDA, and the local party ELAN have asked him to investigate whether the municipality can terminate the contract with COA, which runs until 2028, with immediate effect. Van Kessel has now asked lawyers to find out whether this is possible.
Also view this photo series about asylum seekers’ centers: Waiting for a status
According to Frank Claassen (50) – who runs a shop in Maarheeze, a village next to Budel – there is only one solution: the asylum seekers’ center must close as soon as possible. “My wife no longer dares to go shopping in Maarheeze,” he says from behind the counter in his large store full of kitchenware, do-it-yourself items and gift items. “Asylum seekers harass women here and steal from shops.” They sometimes steal something in Claassen’s shop too, he says, but he no longer makes a report, because in his experience it makes no sense.
Further in the village, a 44-year-old woman with some groceries in her hand says that “enough.” She doesn’t want her name out there. “We live near the asylum seekers’ center. My fourteen-year-old daughter is regularly called after in English by groups of men from the asylum seekers’ center. Bad words.” She says that she was once pushed against a clothes rack by an asylum seeker in the clothing store in Budel where she works. He allegedly stole two coats. “It is now up to another municipality to welcome asylum seekers.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of January 28, 2022
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