The 'Palais des droits' building in Schaerbeek has been occupied by asylum seekers for months but tragedy hit during the festive period as one resident died from a drug overdose, leading a ministerial spokesperson to deem the situation as "out of control."
The former office building on Rue des Palais was supposed to be renovated to accommodate Ukrainian refugees by springtime. However, plans changed and the building became an unofficial reception centre for asylum seekers.
As Belgium failed to offer accommodation to asylum seekers throughout 2022 (prompting numerous convictions against the state), many undocumented migrants took the opportunity to occupy the building towards the end of October. The "squat" was subsequently named the "Palais des droits" (in English "Palace of Rights").
As news about the makeshift accommodation quickly spread, a variety of new residents were attracted during the cold winter months, among them the capital's homeless population, some of whom with drug addictions.
Combined with a lack of legal framework and overcrowding, problems have been exacerbated by a lack of hygiene and heating in the building. Furthermore, the risk of 'superinfection' grew as maladies such as scabies and diphtheria affected 700 of the building's residents.
- Asylum seeker dies in Schaerbeek, another stabbed
- Anti-homelessness organisation hands out free Christmas meals in Brussels
- Council of Europe urges Belgian asylum secretary to solve reception crisis
This resulted in tensions developing among the residents. The Red Cross, which had set up a temporary clinic opposite the so-called squat, confirmed that they had treated dozens of inhabitants injured in fights over the past three weeks.
These issues came to a head during the Christmas period when one of the building's inhabitants was stabbed by three other residents; a drug overdose led to the death of another asylum seeker. As a result, the French-speaking newspaper Le Soir investigated the relevant authorities' plans to deal with the site.
'Out of control'
Speaking to Le Soir, a ministerial spokesperson said that "the situation is out of control" in the residency, despite recent efforts by regional authorities to deal with the crisis.
Since Monday, three security guards stationed by the Region of Brussels-Capital have stopped armed people or those under the influence entering the building. However, this has done little to reduce the insecurity felt by the palace's residents, according to Le Soir.
This has not been helped by a lack of solutions offered by the Federal Government who have, so far, only managed to remove 20 people from the premises.
For that reason, the Brussels Government has organised working groups among various authorities, from federal representatives to municipalities, the latter of whom have been asked about the possibility of transferring some of the residents to another building.