The Netherlands

The country pages give an overview about some key aspects of the different countries that are relevant for the reserach projects on European border communities: population size and composition, EU membership and Schengen, border regime, influx of migrants, related issues in the public discourse and recent incidents and terrorism

  • Population 17.102.498
  • Migration related background 21,7%
  • Living in illegality 25.000 - 50.000

Population size and composition

The Netherlands has a registered population of more than 17 million people. To be exact, 17.102.498 people lived in the Netherlands on 20 February 2017[1]. In 2015, 21,7% of the population had a migration related background, including first and second generation migrants. The main non-Western countries of origin in the same year were Turkey (2,4%), Morocco (2,3%), Suriname (2,1%) and the Dutch Antilles (0,9%). It is estimated that 25.000 to 50.000 people were living in illegality in the Netherlands in 2013. However, estimating an ‘invisible population’ is proved to be very difficult. More recent estimates are not available yet.

EU membership and Schengen

The Netherlands can be seen as one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the European Union (EU), as it has been part of the European Community (later: European Union) ever since its establishment in 1957 (Davies, 2015). The European Union was set up to unite Europe by promoting co-operation between the its Member States and integrating economic, political and social areas. In 1985, the Netherlands was involved in the founding of the Schengen Agreement, which came into force in 1995. The Schengen Area is smaller than the EU area and guarantees free movement of persons. Countries that have joined the Schengen Agreement abolished internal border checks and agreed upon having common rules and procedures regarding visas, asylum requests and border controls. This, of course, affects the existence and working of European Border Communities.

Border regime

The Netherlands borders Germany to the east and Belgium at the southern side of the country. With a total length of 1027 kilometres, these borders form the internal land borders. Since the Netherlands is part of the Schengen Area, any form of control, whether systematic or by spot-checks, at these borders is prohibited (Van der Woude & Van Berlo, 2015, p. 67). In theory, this means that crossing a Dutch border area should not differ from a journey within the country itself. In practice, however, recent developments in the area of immigration have affected the non-existence of internal borders between all Schengen states (Van der Woude & Van der Leun, 2017). Many Schengen countries have taken monitoring and controlling measures at their internal borders as a response to the high influx of migrants. Article 21 of the Schengen Border Code provides legal basis for these measures, stating that the abolition of borders does not mean that Member States have to give up on all forms of control in border areas. As long as controls are not conducted in a systematic way, national authorities are permitted to carry out controls in the border area (Van der Woude, 2015). The Netherlands has also taken such border control measures, which are laid down in the national legislation.

The Mobile Security Monitor (in Dutch: Mobiel Toezicht Veiligheid) is part of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (RNM) and carries out spot-checks in border areas in order to combat illegal migration. Article 50 of the Aliens Law (Vreemdelingenwet 2000) provides legal basis for their authority in border areas and gives them the legislative right to ask people in border areas for identification and residence permits without the necessity of reasonable suspicion. Additionally, Article 4.17a of the Aliens Decree (Vreemdelingenbesluit) limits border control powers in spatial and temporal sense. Sub 1 of this article provides that powers can only be carried out on airports after arrival of flights from a Schengenzone, in trains, at most 30 minutes after passing the Dutch-Belgium or Dutch-German frontier and on roads and waterways within an area of 20 kilometres from the border. Furthermore, two preliminary rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) limit the frequency and intensity of border controls, in accordance with Article 4.17a of the Aliens Decree. In the Melki/Abdeli case and the Adil case, the ECJ ruled that the power to carry out spot-checks only exists within an area of 20 kilometres from the land border of the State and that its practical exercise cannot have an effect that resembles systematic border checks. Limitations apply on the maximum amount of checks a day and the maximum amount of time spend on supervision. Article 4.17a subs 3-5 of the Aliens Decree provides that a maximum of 20 trains a day can be checked, while road checks can be carried out for 6 hours a day with a maximum of 90 hours a month.

Influx of migrants

In the past three years the refugee crisis has become a top concern in Europe. Continuing conflicts in the Middle East form the biggest driver of the mass migration movement that finds its way into the Fortress of Europe. In 2015, 1.321.600 citizens of non-EU countries applied for asylum in a European country. This is significantly more than the 627.000 application the EU received in 2014 and the 431.000 applications received in 2013. This increase in asylum applications is also visible in the Netherlands. The Netherlands received 43.093 asylum claims in 2015, which is 18.558 more than in 2014 and almost 30.000 more than in 2013 (VluchtelingenWerk Nederland, 2016). From January 2016 until October 2016, 15.104 people applied for asylum in the Netherlands. Since not everyone who arrives in Europe claims for asylum, real numbers about migration might be even higher.

In general, most asylum applicants are from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. The main citizenships of asylum applicants in the Netherlands are Syria, Eritrea, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some numbers about asylum applications in the Netherlands in 2015:

  • 53,6% of the asylum applicants were between 18 and 34 years old;
  • 73% of the asylum applicants were male;
  • 32,5% of the asylum applications gained a refugee status, 45,9% was offered subsidiary protection and 1,9% was allowed to stay on the basis of humanitarian reasons[2] in first instance decisions;
  • 19,6% of the asylum applications was rejected.

Rejected asylum seekers have to leave the country, for which they have 28 days in the Netherlands. Immigration detention is possible when a person does not want to leave voluntarily and there is a risk that he retrains from supervision.

The high influx of migrants is closely linked to the choices that countries have made concerning their border regime. Furthermore, the refugee crisis raises safety concerns and can affect public support for the European Union in Member States. More on this topic can be found under ‘Public Discourse’.

Public discourse

The Eurobarometer monitors the evolution of public opinion in the Member States. Surveys include among other things topics such as the European political situation, the economy and main concerns.


Support for Dutch membership of the European Union seems to be decreasing, but varies greatly over time. At the highest peak, in 1991, 89% of the Dutch respondents thought that membership of the EU was a good thing. In 2007, this was 78%. The most recent results show that 68% of the respondents see Dutch membership of the EU as a good thing.

In 2016, 78% of the respondents disagreed with the statement that the Netherlands could better face the future outside the EU and 17% agreed with this statement. Results have hardly changed since 2012. Therefore, we could carefully assume that a Nexit is not a realistic prospect.


In the Netherlands, the public discourse regarding immigrants has changed a little bit since 2014. Results of November 2014 show that 41% of the Dutch respondents is fairly positive towards immigration of people from outside the EU, while 38% of the respondents has a fairly negative opinion. In May 2015, the year with the highest influx of migrants, this more or less turned around: 36% of the respondents held a fairly positive opinion about immigration of people outside the EU and 44% held a fairly negative opinion. According to the last survey, that has been carried out in November 2016, we are back with similar percentages (40/40).

In the mean time, immigration has evolved to one of the biggest issues facing the Netherlands according to Dutch respondents. In 2012, only 2% of the respondent found immigration a major concern, opposed to 40% in 2016.


According to the Eurobarometer, concerns about terrorist attacks have also increased over the past few years. In 2012, none of the respondents reported terrorism as major concern. This increased to an average of 20% in 2016.

Open borders

In the context of the refugee crisis, terrorist threats and the Brexit, the Schengen Agreement is under pressure. Various countries have re-introduced border checks within the possibilities the Schengen Agreement provides. Nevertheless, most EU member states remain attached to the free movement ideal and are not willing to give up on the Schengen Agreement – with its open internal borders.

Dutch opinion research carried out by Ispos in 2015 suggests that 28% of the respondents would be in favour of closing the borders for every form of migration. Although this percentage seems quite high, the majority of those surveyed are in favour of alternative solutions to regulate the influx of migrants.

Incidents and terrorism

After a period of terroristic threat of Moluccan activists in the 1980s, balance was restored until the murder of Theo van Gogh in 2004. Luckily, the Netherlands has escaped terrorist attacks in the past few years. Nevertheless, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels, the threat level that indicates the chance of a terrorist attack in the Netherlands is substantial. This means that an attack is likely.

The arrival of asylum seekers has led to protests and incidents at various places in the Netherlands. Protests were mainly directed against the establishment of asylum seeker centres in a specific area.

Furthermore, the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA, in Dutch: Centraal Orgaan opvang Asielzoekers) keeps track of the number of incidents in reception centres, which can vary from breaking house rules to physical violence, aggression and suicide. In 2015, COA recorded 8149 incidents[3]. In addition to that, the police recorded 4460 incidents. During the first six months of 2016, COA recorded 9166 incidents and the police recorded 3637 incidents.

Credits to

[1] Based on the CBS population counter.

[2] Refugee and subsidiary protection status are defined by EU law, while humanitarian reasons are specific to national legislation:

[3] Data comes from COA and police reports about recorded incidents in 2015 and the first half of 2016:

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