Despite their status of temporary protection, Ukrainian refugees are now also being confronted with Belgium's ongoing asylum reception crisis as dozens of them have recently had to spend the night on the benches of the Brussels Midi train station.
After nine months of war, the wave of solidarity for people fleeing Ukraine has seemingly reached its limits: of the roughly 100 Ukrainian refugees who are still registered daily, about 40 do not receive the shelter that the Belgian State is legally entitled to provide, Magali Pratte of the Brussels homeless organisation Samusocial told VRT.
"Fortunately, the Ukrainian community is very active and shows a lot of solidarity, so most people can get by and find a solution," she said. "Unfortunately, the others often spend the night in the train station building or in our homeless shelter."
Initially, several buildings in Brussels served as an emergency shelter to receive Ukrainians in dire need who arrived after the registration desk closed. "Recently, more and more people are returning to us, even after registering. But we cannot always help," Pratte said.
Spending the night in the Eurostar terminal
As Samusocial's emergency places are often overcrowded, it is arranging for Ukrainian people to spend the night in the Eurostar terminal at Brussels Midi station, in consultation with the Belgian railway company SNCB.
"In the past two months, 75 Ukrainian refugees have had to spend the night there," Pratte told De Standaard. "In chairs, on benches or on the floor, under blankets that we give them. A family of eight slept there for three days. They may not be on the street, but they are de facto homeless."
The usual procedure dictates that after registering with the Immigration Office, Ukrainians should be allocated a reception place by Fedasil, Belgium's Federal Asylum agency, in Flanders, Brussels or Wallonia – usually after a short stay at the Ariane transit centre in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert.
In the first half of October, Fedasil housed another 250 Ukrainians there, none since, but it is now overcrowded because the flow to the regions is not going as well as it should. Additionally, it is now also being used to give other asylum seekers a sheltered place, as Belgium has been struggling with properly receiving them for over a year now.
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While Belgium's State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor admitted that Fedasil's emergency shelter is full, she pointed out that the regions are responsible for the reception of Ukrainian refugees, not the Federal Government.
"If the regions do not do that, the emergency shelter will naturally fill up. There were initially insufficient places, especially in Wallonia, but there is now a commitment to create more," she said, adding that improvement is in sight.
In the meantime, however, Ukrainians remain on the street and Samusocial are very concerned. With winter approaching, its facilities will fill up even faster with asylum seekers who did not get the shelter they were legally entitled to, homeless Brussels residents, and now also Ukrainians with nowhere else to go.