Belgium's reception crisis: Over 100 families and children on the streets tonight

Belgium's reception crisis: Over 100 families and children on the streets tonight
A young asylum seeker waiting in the cold at the Fedasil registration centre in Brussels. Credit: Belga

A "striking" number of families with children and unaccompanied minors have been sent back to the streets on Thursday evening, as Belgium reaches a new low in the reception crisis for asylum seekers that has been going on for over a year.

Belgium's Federal Asylum agency Fedasil has once again failed to provide all asylum seekers with the shelter to which they are legally entitled. This has left minors and families with (very young) children on the streets, stated Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen (Refugee Council Flanders) on Thursday.

"It is abundantly clear that the government is still missing the urgency of the situation and not enough solutions are being pursued," said Tine Claus, director of Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen in a press release. "What has to happen before real solutions are found?"

The organisation announced that at least 100 people seeking asylum in a family context will have to spend the night on the streets, together with 20 to 30 unaccompanied minors.

"Unfortunately, no shelter for the majority of families and minors today. There were 240 of them this morning, I have no idea how many of them end up on the streets but there are very many. Children, couples, unaccompanied minors, women: all on the streets," wrote Thomas Willekens of Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen on Twitter.

The organisation stressed that these people are left to fend for themselves by the Belgian State: "Every night on the streets is one night too many. The Federal Government bears full responsibility for this."

Despite the fact that there are always more people waiting for shelter at the doors of the asylum services after every weekend or closing days, the organisation stressed that the relevant services were "once again totally unprepared" for the greater number of people after the 1 and 2 November holidays on Thursday.

Belgium disregards legal decisions

Single men were not even given the opportunity to apply for asylum and while all the families and minors were able to apply for asylum, not all of them will get a reception place. As Fedasil does not communicate transparently about the number of people left out on the street, Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen speaks of at least 100 people.

"This is hugely problematic because it means people are disappearing under the radar," stressed the organisation.

In the meantime, the Belgian state was reprimanded by the European Court of Human Rights on Wednesday for not giving shelter to an asylum seeker who had been sleeping on the streets since 17 July.

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The man had already enforced a reception place through the labour court, but Fedasil did not respect this court ruling. "This case is a good example of the Belgian state's handling of this reception crisis: letting people with reception rights sleep on the streets for months, and disregarding legal decisions."

Therefore, Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen calls on the Belgian population to denounce the injustice and sign its petition. "We call on Prime Minister Alexander De Croo to take responsibility with his government and not leave people to sleep on the streets."

Belgium's reception crisis explained

For more than a year now, hundreds of asylum seekers have been sleeping rough as a result of Belgium's failure to provide them with the shelter they are legally entitled to.

Fedasil, Belgium's Federal Asylum agency, operates several reception centres across Belgium (of which Petit Château in Brussels has become the most notorious), where people who have been granted asylum in the country should receive a bed, bath and food (or a sheltered place).

Once the rush of asylum seekers coming to the country temporarily slowed down following the migration crisis, the government reduced the number of sheltered places, closing down Fedasil centres.

Since October last year, this figure is once again increased slowly, and the government is not responding to the rise in demand for sheltered places.

Instead, it created a waiting list which prioritised minors and families with children, leaving single men to sleep on the streets, and resulting in Fedasil being convicted more than 4,500 times for failing to provide shelter.

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