Family locations

More than a thousand refugee children in the Netherlands live in so-called “family locations” together with their parents. The facilities in the family locations are exceptionally frugal, even though some families have to spend years on end in these places. Some examples of the frugal regime are listed below:

  • The families live in rooms of approximately twelve square meters. In rare cases there is a separate room for children furnished with bunk beds, but usually the whole family sleeps in one room.
  • The financial allowance is very low. This allowance not only has to pay for the daily expenses, but also for long term costs such as cutlery and furnishing.
  • In some shelters the parents have no choice as to which school their younger children will go to. Even if the children are born in the Netherlands and speak Dutch fluently, they are forced to go to the primary school that is hosted by the family location. These schools only have the bare necessities needed to run a primary school, and the education is of a low quality.
  • Families are transferred to other locations often, without any notice. Moving home 5 times is no exception, and after every transfer children lose their friends and have to adapt to a completely unknown environment.
  • Parents have no right to education, participation in voluntary work or jobs, even if they have been in the Netherlands for years. In some of the shelters the parents are not even allowed to cook themselves; the meals are provided by a central kitchen.
  • Medical care falls short in these family locations. The inhabitants have limited access to the care of a nurse, but for a visit to a GP permission has to be granted. This permission is often denied. Care for families suffering from war-traumas is practically non-existent.
  • The family locations are usually busy and noisy, because usually around 100 families are placed in one single family location. This makes it very difficult for children to be able to do their homework. The overcrowding also means there is barely any privacy at the family locations.
  • People at the family locations are punished for ‘offenses’ with ‘fines’ that are subtracted from the families’ financial allowance. For example, when children play in the corridors the family gets a €15,- fine.

Jamal writes: “I don’t like moving. It’s even worse for my dad, because he is sick. It’s also hard for me, because you have to make new friends and go to a new school.”

Strong Criticism

Various organizations have already spoken out about the harsh conditions these families have to live in, and their consequences for their children.

In 2011, UNICEF and Defence for Children concluded that the family locations in Gilze-Rijen and Katwijk are not suitable for children. Both these locations are still in operation.

In 2012, Vluchtelingenwerk declared that the family locations are a failed experiment. This resulted in official inquiries about the functioning of the locations in the parliament. In the same year Defence for Children, Kerk in Actie, Stichting Kinderpostzegels, Vluchtelingenwerk, Stichting de Vrolijkheid and UNICEF – in the focus group ‘Kind in AZC’ (child in asylum seeker center) – published a letter addressed to the secretary of state about the problems in the family locations.

 Nancy (15) is also scared of the police: “I don’t feel safe, not even at school because I am afraid that any moment the police can come to bring me and my family to prison.” brengt.”

In 2013, 10 youths in the international department in a school in Emmen, all living in the family location in Emmen, sent letters to king Willem-Alexander in which they told about their heartfelt worries and fears.

All of this has not led to any improvements, which is shown by a publication by the focus group ‘Kind in AZC’ from 2014, called ‘Het is hier in één woord gewoon… stom’ (In one word, it’s just… dumb here). Supported by numerous examples, this comprehensive report concludes that the placement of families in family locations not only violates the Rights of Children in a systematic way, but also is harmful and ineffective.

The recommendation of this focus group to the parliament is to completely abolish the family locations.



In 2016, Doorbraak published an extensive article about the wrongs and the failing policies at the family locations.