Up to 1987 there was no official reception centre in the Netherlands. Upon arrival in the Netherlands, asylum seekers were referred to the Social Services and were given an allowance. Because of the increasing inflow, in first instance mostly by Tamils from Sri Lanka, the Guideline Reception of Asylum Seekers (ROA) came into being in November 1987. The first four asylum seekers’ reception centres opened their doors. Within these centres, the Project Reception of Asylum Seekers (POA) was responsible for the food distribution and personal support of asylum seekers.

The start of the COA

In 1992 the privatisation of asylum reception was prepared. The implementing officials were seconded to the interim foundation reception of asylum seekers (Interim Stichting Opvang Asielzoekers ISOA). In 1993 the Lubbers III government took the decision to merge ISOA and POA into the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers. On 1 July 1994 the COA Act was ratified and the COA officially started as an independent administrative body. That year the Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) became responsible for the implementation of the admission policy.

The early years: major inflow

In the COA’s early years the number of reception centres for asylum seekers increased substantially. It was a time of pioneering. Staff increased and the main focus was on acquiring reception centres. After this initial stage, the COA paid more attention to the support of asylum seekers. From then on, we offered medical care, the possibility to follow education programmes - for instance to learn the Dutch language - and we gave information on the asylum procedure and life in the Netherlands. This expansion of our range of duties went hand in hand with the professionalisation of the COA as a business.  

Highs and lows

In 2001 almost 84,000 asylum seekers realised a historical high in the number of received asylum seekers. The number of inhabitants gradually became less, to 15,000 in 2012. From the end of 2013 onwards numbers were increasing again and in 2015 some 50,000 asylum seekers stayed in the COA reception centres. Numbers diminished to 21,000 asylum seekers at the end of 2017.


The COA has always reacted to changes. Examples during the past ten years were the general pardon (2007), the new asylum procedures (2010) and organising family locations (2011).

Over the years there were reorganisations, both in the reception centres and in the operations. In 2012, large number of asylum seeker centres were closed. In the course of 2014 and 2015 many locations were opened, including emergency locations with a temporary nature. Again in 2016, centres closed down. The COA staff always moves with these fluctuations.