Since the start of this year, Fedasil, the government's agency that regulates the asylum reception, has already been convicted almost 4,500 times for failing to provide shelter that they are legally entitled to, almost four times more than previously reported.
Belgium's reception centres operated by Fedasil are failing to cope to provide shelter to asylum seekers due to the lack of places, resulting in almost 5,000 people sleeping on the streets. It was previously reported the organisation faced about six convictions per day for its inability to deliver on its legal requirement. It has now been revealed this figure is much higher.
"Having taken note of the erroneous number of convictions against Fedasil that has been circulating in the press, the French-speaking Labour Court of Brussels specifies that, to date, it has received 4832 unilateral applications since 1 January regarding the dispute over the reception of asylum seekers," the court's spokesperson Pascal Hubain said in a statement.
In recent weeks and months, it had been reported that this figure sat between 1,000 and 1,500 convictions, which in hindsight is merely the tip of the iceberg. "At the current rate of applications, the number of 5,000 applications will be reached during the week of 10 October 2022," Hubain noted.
Compared to the annual average recorded in the period from 2014 to 2019 — when the Tribunal dealt with about 40 unilateral applications per year — this was in stark contrast with the current situation. The Federal Government was ordered to pay €5,000 for each working day that goes by during which at least one person is not given a place to stay.
Buckling under pressure
Fedasil has been struggling to fulfil its legal obligations to provide shelter to all asylum applicants since October last year when the signs of a reception crisis in Belgium first became apparent.
It has tended to give priority to families with children and unaccompanied minors as well as people applying for asylum for the first time over single men and people who have reportedly previously applied for asylum in another European country. Those not given the shelter they are entitled to can go to the labour court to fight this decision.
In May, a cry for help already came from the tribunal, which at that point was already overburdened with the fallout of the crisis.
The lack of response from the government has resulted in an ever-increasing workload faced by the magistrates, referendaries, clerks and staff of the French-speaking Labour Court of Brussels. Meanwhile, the staff of Fedasil, organisations and lawyers assisting asylum seekers with their claims are suffering from burnouts.
"It is very telling that the people who stand up for the rights of asylum seekers are now also suffering from burnout because of the inertia of the situation. They have also started to give up, which only further worsens the situation," Thomas Willekens, a Policy Officer at Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen (Refugee Council Flanders) told The Brussels Times.
Additionally, Hubain noted that the Tribunal cannot increase the human and logistical resources for these cases "without penalising the other cases under its jurisdiction."
No improvement in sight
Despite the court sounding the alarm and the mounting cost of the convictions, the government still refuses to implement the solutions called for by civil organisations working to mitigate the problem.
Various sources close to the matter told The Brussels Times that the situation is only bound to deteriorate. On Wednesday, Fedasil staff were informed that single men with medical problems (who normally get medical exceptions and are given shelter) will also be put on the streets. "There really is just no humanity left," the employee said.
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This was confirmed by Willekens, who said the final step to the bottom of the pit is expected to be taken in the coming days.
"Winter is around the corner, and thousands of asylum seekers will not be given shelter. The government doesn't seem to realise the seriousness of this situation, or they refuse to respond to it out of electoral considerations. We are really asking ourselves what needs to happen before they understand the urgency."