Dutch court rules that migrants' right to food, shelter not unconditional

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - A Dutch high court on Thursday upheld a government policy of withholding food and shelter to rejected asylum-seekers who refuse to be repatriated, giving legal backing to one of Europe's toughest immigration policies. The Raad van State or Council of State, which reviews the legality of government decisions, found that the new policy of conservative Prime Minister Mark Rutte does not contravene the European Convention on Human Rights. A rejected asylum seeker does not have the right to appeal to the European Social Charter, it said. The Dutch government "has the right, when providing shelter in so-called locations of limited freedom, to require failed asylum-seekers to cooperate with their departure from the Netherlands," a summary of the ruling said. As the Netherlands toughened its stance on newcomers in recent years, Dutch policy toward asylum-seekers and immigrants has been criticized by NGOs and the United Nations as overly strict. Thursday's ruling counters an August report by the U.N.'s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which told the Dutch they should meet migrants' basic needs unconditionally. "As long as they are in The Netherlands, they have to enjoy minimum standards of living," co-author Ion Diaconu, wrote at the time. The EU's leading human rights forum, the 47-nation Council of Europe admonished the Netherlands in 2014 for placing asylum seekers in administrative detention and leaving many "irregular immigrants" in legal limbo and destitution. Europe's worst migrant and refugee crisis since World War Two has led to a surge in support for far right Dutch leader Geert Wilders, who wants to close the borders. The Netherlands is the eighth-largest destination for asylum seekers in the European Union, accounting for 4 percent of total arrivals in 2014. Total applications last year rose 87 percent to 24,535. (Reporting by Toby Sterling and Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Toby Chopra)