Chronic lack of space for refugees who want to come to Belgium

Chronic lack of space for refugees who want to come to Belgium
Asylum seekers waiting in line at the Immigration Office. Credit: Lauren Walker/ The Brussels Times

Belgium is failing to welcome the number of refugees it has promised to take in. Just 78 refugees were transferred to Belgium in 2022 through a resettlement programme, barely 6% of what the country agreed to.

Resettlement is a programme run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which involves selecting and transferring refugees from a country where they have sought protection to another which agrees to receive them as refugees. In Belgium, efforts made as part of the programme are at their lowest level since 2014, De Standaard reported on Tuesday.

The issue lies with Belgium's growing backlog of asylum cases, in line with an increasing number of requests for international protection (+42% compared to 2021), a phenomenon observed in several EU countries due to an increase in migration into the EU and strong secondary migration within Europe.

However, the issue also lies with the country's inability to provide refugees who applied for asylum with the shelter they are legally entitled to, resulting in thousands being left to their own devices and being forced to sleep outside in freezing temperatures.

"There are many requests for international protection, too few sheltered places, too great a backlog in the files: that makes it very difficult, if not impossible, to take on more people in the context of 'resettlement'," said Dirk Van den Bulck, Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGVS).

Many people in need

In 2022, 1.4 million needed resettlement, according to the UNHCR. In 2023, the amount of people who will need to receive help via this programme is expected to increase to 2 million people.

In resettlement selection procedures, asylum seekers "are put in the waiting room for an indefinite period of time. Today, an estimated 300 refugees have been waiting for more than a year for their resettlement to Belgium," said 11.11.11  – an NGO which works on this issue.

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State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor (CD&V) previously said that Belgium will take in 500 refugees in 2023. Currently, it is only the most vulnerable people, including people with disabilities as women and children, who are selected.

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