World Council of Churches

A worldwide fellowship of churches seeking unity, a common witness and Christian service

Security for refugees and asylum seekers

28 October 2005

Letter to H.E. Jan Peter Balkenende, Prime Minister and Minister of General Affairs,
The Netherlands, 28 October, 2005

Your Excellency,

For centuries refugees and asylum seekers have turned for assistance to the
churches. The World Council of Churches has provided a focal point for this ministry
since its formation in 1948 in Amsterdam. It, together with its members,
advocated for the creation of and cooperated closely with the Office of the United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The Council has repeatedly expressed
serious and growing concern at the unmet protection needs of refugees, internally
displaced people and migrants. Amongst others the Council has called on the
states and intergovernmental bodies to provide adequate protection for refugees
and asylum seekers including conducive conditions for their housing and safety
while in detention.

The World Council of Churches is therefore deeply concerned at the tragic
death of eleven detainees who were housed in deportation cells at Amsterdam
Schiphol Airport. The lives of those killed could have been saved if the security
guards assigned for their safety had reacted quickly when the fire alarms went off.

Also, if proper safety measures had been put in place at the Detention Centre this
human tragedy could have been avoided. The Dutch National Refugee Council
has criticized the conditions prevalent at the Centre, particularly the lack of an
automatic system to open cell doors. Some of these precious lives could have been
saved if the opening of the cell doors were not done manually one at a time.
The World Council of Churches calls on the Government of the Netherlands
to order an independent enquiry into the death of the eleven detainees and take
measures to ensure that such incidences do not happen in the future.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Weiderud