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Dutch plan to place refugees on cruise ships slammed as ‘absurd’

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The Dutch government announces controversial plans to house non-Ukrainian refugees in floating cruise ships, a move slammed by critics as "absurd." (File photo)

The Dutch government's plan to house non-Ukrainian refugees arriving in the Netherlands on floating cruise ships has sparked controversy in the European nation with critics slamming the move as “absurd.”

Government officials in the Netherlands laid out the controversial scheme as a solution to overcrowded asylum centers, further suggesting that refugees from Ukraine will not be placed on the ships -- unlike those from other nations – sparking harsh criticism from local Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), European news outlets reported on Friday.

As the government commissioned three large ships to implement the contentious plan, the Amsterdam-based Council for Refugees (VluchtelingenWerk) blasted the move as “absurd.”

“You don’t need research to think that you can’t do that to people who have fled war and violence. You take care of refugees as a society and not from a distance at sea,” said a group spokesperson.

“The reception of asylum seekers is now far below standard,” he added. “A cruise ship as a temporary measure is already a lot better than an average crisis emergency shelter. But it’s a different story if you let them float around at sea.”

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) in the Netherlands also described the move as “undesirable,” insisting that “existing traumas due to the dangerous flight may resurface for some.”

According to the press reports, one of the commissioned ships is due to be anchored in Velsen, near IJmuiden in North Holland, but Dutch ministers are struggling to find other willing ports.

Dutch officials are also looking into ways to allow refugees free movement on and off the ships in order to avoid criticism by rights groups that those onboard are being illegally held captive by the state.

Authorities further claim that the measure was necessary due to the lack of space in refugee centers in light of the large number of Ukrainians fleeing the intensifying conflict in the country.

According to local media reports, nearly 3,000 refugees could be housed on the cruise ships from September under the plans agreed to by the Dutch cabinet earlier this week.

The development came as refugees have reportedly been forced to sleep on the grass outside one refugee center in the village of Ter Apel in the north of the Netherlands due to lack of space, a situation that the government claims will not be resolved for at least a couple of weeks.

Since Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine began on 24 February, an estimated 60,000 Ukrainians have arrived in the Netherlands amid widespread reports of discrimination against non-Ukrainian refugees across Europe.

Recently, the British government also unveiled plans to send non-Ukrainian asylum seekers to Rwanda, prompting protests by rights activists.

Two years ago, the UK’s Home Office also contemplated housing refugees in unused ferries moored off the country’s coastlines, but it did not implement the scheme due to its high financial cost.

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