‘A crisis foretold’: Belgium’s system for asylum seekers is overwhelmed

‘A crisis foretold’: Belgium’s system for asylum seekers is overwhelmed
In 2020, immigration and assylum officials said there was currently 'no solution' to prevent homeless asylum-seekers end up in the streets. © Belga

Belgium’s system for receiving asylum seekers and refugees is once again completely saturated, according to a press release from Dokters van de Wereld, part of the international Médecins du Monde network.

For almost a month now, people have been unable to submit requests for protection and have been denied the right to reception, the organisation wrote in a statement, signed by multiple other human rights organisations, including Médecins sans frontières Belgium and La Ligue des Droits Humains.

“This new crisis is due to years of poor management, which seems to lack an unambiguous vision of the future,” it stated.

“People in need are now paying the consequences of this negligence, their right to asylum is being trampled on, and they are being left behind in total misery. Our organisations are once again calling on the Belgian state to put an end to these violations of rights.”

Staff warned of looming crisis

Employees of the Klein Kasteeltje (or Petit-Château) in Brussels, which serves as a reception centre for migrants looking for asylum, have already gone on strike over what they describe as an untenable workload.

They had long been warning that the centre had reached its full capacity, with the monthly number of asylum applications at its highest level since the 2015 migration crisis.

Now, Dokters van de Wereld says the centre is forced to turn away asylum seekers, leaving them “on the street, without the possibility to register their asylum request, without receiving the reception they are entitled to and without receiving any information.”

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Volunteers and staff have little means to remedy the shortcomings, and the core mission of other aid organisations like Samusocial, the centres of Plateforme Citoyenne or the PSA centre of the Red Cross, isn’t the reception of asylum seekers.

“The lack of shelter management is a cynical and undignified game. The human cost is immeasurable, first for those seeking protection and then for shelter workers, whose role is undermined,” the Dokters van de Wereld statement read.

“The financial consequences of this lack of planning are disastrous. And the impact on the credibility of the Belgian authorities cannot be underestimated.”

Mismanagement to blame

They lay the blame for the overwhelmed reception network for refugees squarely on poor management, saying that thousands of sites are closed, qualified staff are dismissed as soon as the number of arrivals decreases, sites are reopened and rushed back into service when the number of arrivals increases, and workers are exhausted and unable to do quality work.

“Beneficiaries are mistreated by a system that doesn't work. There is no anticipation, no flexibility and, above all, no respect for people and their rights.”

Belgian authorities have acknowledged the existence of a crisis when it comes to asylum seekers, but point to this summer’s deadly floods, the crisis in Afghanistan and the coronavirus pandemic as contributing factors.

“This litany is cyclical, with some variations in the alleged factors. It no longer convinces anyone,” said Dokters van de Wereld.

“Once again, the government is acting in violation of Belgian and European legislation on asylum and reception. We have no choice but to resort to the courts. Chronicle of a crisis foretold, story without end, eternal return... It is high time to work on a different scenario and model.”

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