The COVID-19 vaccines and undocumented migrants in the Netherlands

As part of our efforts to monitor access to the COVID-19 vaccines for undocumented migrants in Europe, we’re speaking with national-level advocates about the situation in their countries. This interview was conducted in April 2021 with Janine Wildschut of Dokters van de Wereld to discuss the situation in the Netherlands. It is not meant to offer an exhaustive picture of the legal and practical context in the Netherlands. Please get in touch at if you have information you’d like to share, and follow our Twitter page @PICUM_post to get more recent updates.

What does the Dutch vaccination strategy say about undocumented migrants?

The strategy explicitly mentions undocumented migrants as one target group for the vaccination campaign. In terms of priority, they come after age, medical and professional categories, and are included in the group of homeless people.

What do you make of this?

It’s good that the strategy mentions undocumented migrants explicitly, and this was the result of advocacy early-on carried out by civil society organisations. But we also pointed out that undocumented migrants should also be prioritised based on their age and medical conditions, and not come after age and medical categories, as if those didn’t apply to them. In addition, not all undocumented people are homeless, and so they wouldn’t be reached through outreach in the shelters for homeless people.

So how can undocumented migrants get their COVID-19 vaccine in the Netherlands practically?

There are three main avenues. The first one is the one outlined in the vaccination strategy, that is in the shelters for homeless people. The Ministry of Health, in cooperation with civil society, has organised vans with medical teams who administer the jabs in the shelters, or other facilities managed by civil society. This process started at the beginning of June.

At Doctors of the World, we’ve been able to administer the vaccines to some undocumented migrants before this process started. But this only happened because we were able to convince local doctors, on a case-by-case basis, that these people were old enough or sick enough to be vaccinated according to the age and medical priority groups. And then only because spare doses were available.

What about the other two avenues for undocumented migrants to get vaccinated?

The second avenue is by phone. Anyone can call a public number to book their vaccination, when they are part of the priority group whose turn it is. If you don’t have a national registration number, the operator will just insert a string of 9s. Not all operators are aware of this policy, but this is what’s in the regulations.

The third avenue is through the GPs, who can help patients with a medical condition to book their vaccination. To register with a GP, you’d normally need health insurance, which includes your national registration number: this is not available to undocumented migrants, but the GP can still accept them as patients and later be reimbursed through the national health service. Because this process is quite bureaucratic, though, it really depends on the individual GP and whether or not they’ll accept an undocumented person.

Are there any risks of immigration checks when undocumented migrants try to get the vaccine?

In the Netherlands, there’s a clear duty of confidentiality for all medical staff, and privacy regulations would apply too. We haven’t heard of any case of data sharing, but fears over immigration enforcement are obviously still present among the undocumented community.

Cover: Michal Soukup – Unsplash