“Illegal immigrants” have basic social rights – or do they not?

A couple of months have passed since the CEC v the Netherlands ruling of the European Social Committee (ESC) on 10 November 2014 but the Netherlands is still hesitant to take steps to ensure basic social rights of undocumented migrants.

Veronika Flegar, University of Groningen

In CEC v the Netherlands the ESC ruled that rejected asylum-seekers and other undocumented persons have the right to food, clothing and shelter. The right to emergency healthcare had already been provided for by the Dutch government in accordance with the earlier cases of the ESC FIDH v France and DCI v Belgium. According to the ESC, the provision of these basic needs is essential for survival in the Netherlands.

However, the decisions of the ESC are not binding and it is left to the Committee of Ministers to recommend steps to be taken by the state in question. For this reason, the Netherlands had been hesitant to take any action for the protection of undocumented persons before the final decision by the Committee of Ministers had been reached. Yesterday, on 15 April 2015, the resolution by the Committee of Ministers on this issue was published and caused an outrage among human rights activists: according to the advice, the Netherlands has no obligation under the European Social Charter to provide for the basic human needs of undocumented persons.

Meanwhile, the coalition parties of the Dutch government are discussing how to proceed, but a definite decision on what should be provided for undocumented persons seems difficult to reach. While the social-democrats PvDA aim for what has become known as the “bed, bath and bread”-facilities, the conservative party VVD is afraid for the pull effect such facilities might have. It remains to be seen how the Netherlands will tackle this problem, because even if no binding legal obligation exists to provide basic reception facilities to undocumented migrants, there certainly is enough political pressure to reach an agreement.

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