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Refugees getting little help from Dutch government

Huddled in tents, sleeping beneath Red Cross blankets, 18 unwilling campers look like refugees from war or famine.

They are asylum seekers rejected both by the Dutch government and by authorities in their homelands. Living in a legal limbo, they say they have nowhere else to go.The Dutch tradition of sheltering the needy and persecuted is being pushed down the political agenda in the Netherlands while the government concentrates on strengthening the economy. And increasingly, it is the religious community that holds out the safety net for the shunned.

In Rotterdam, a Dutch cleric provides warm and dry rooms for local junkies to inject their daily fix. He even started supplying low-cost heroin for some of his guests until local authorities got wind of it and ordered him to stop.

Earlier this year, a Roman Catholic bishop said it was morally acceptable for poor parents to steal bread to feed their children.

John van Tilborg, director of a group that aids people seeking asylum, helped set up the camp for the stateless refugees because, he charged, the government left them to fend for themselves.

"The government has billions of extra guilders, and yet they are dumping people at the railway station to rot," Van Tilborg said. "If I leave my dog in a forest, the justice department will come after me, but the justice department is dumping these people on the street."

There are some 2,000 people in the Netherlands who arrived without identity and travel documents from countries that disowned them, only to have their requests for asylum rejected in a Catch-22: Without papers, they can't leave the country - yet they aren't allowed to stay.

In July, Li Yue, a 21-year-old Chinese mother in that predicament, was deposited by immigration authorities at the Arnhem rail station with her husband and two young daughters.

Now she sits out her days in the tent camp with her daughters, who spend their time playing with toys donated by local families.

"We just have to wait," she said in faltering Dutch learned while going through the asylum process.

A desire to highlight the problem - and a shortage of volunteers willing to accommodate the asylum seekers - led the Dutch Council of Churches to finance the camp.

"As long as people put these refugees up in their homes, the public knows nothing. These people were invisible in our society," said the camp's coordinator, Evert Kraal.