'Completely inhumane': De Moor decision to stop shelter for single men heavily criticised

'Completely inhumane': De Moor decision to stop shelter for single men heavily criticised
Evacuation of the tents with asylum seekers sleeping rough in front of the Petit Chateau - Klein Kasteeltje Fedasil Arrival Centre, in Brussels, Tuesday 07 March 2023. Credit: Belga / Laurie Dieffembacq

The decision to no longer grant reception for single men seeking asylum in Belgium has been widely condemned by lawyers, NGOs and politicians, which will likely leave thousands more roaming the streets of Brussels.

On Tuesday evening, State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, Nicole de Moor, announced the country would temporarily stop providing single men who are applying for asylum in Belgium with shelter in the network of Fedasil, the agency responsible for the reception of asylum seekers, despite it being a legal entitlement.

Since October 2021, access to shelter for asylum-seeking single men has been restricted – with minors and families already having priority in that context. The state argues this is the result of a large influx of refugees, while NGOs have stressed it is due to a lack of political will. The decision left thousands without shelter and sleeping rough in the streets.

Belgium and Fedasil have been convicted by Brussels, Belgian and European courts for failing to provide shelter on numerous counts. The Federal Government repeatedly ignored these convictions, failing to pay the fines or provide the shelter that was called for. Lawyers and NGOs mourned the 'death of the rule of law' over the ongoing failure to comply with court rulings.

“But this latest decision is just totally illegal, on a national, international and EU level. The problem is that, at this point, we are completely beyond legality in Belgium," Marie Doutrepont, a lawyer at Progressive Lawyers Network, told The Brussels Times. "We now have a minister announcing through the media that she will not respect the law for an undefined period of time. This is completely unseen."

Prioritising families?

De Moor argued that the decision was made to reserve all available places for families with children. Yet last autumn, families with (very young) children and unaccompanied minors were also not given a sheltered place due to the reported lack of places for shelter. Instead, they too were forced onto the streets.

The Belgian minister explained that she is "anticipating the rising influx of families and children" – in recent days, the arrival numbers for these groups have reportedly soared – to "absolutely avoid children ending up on the streets in winter."

In response, lawyer Doutrepont stated on Wednesday that the new policy sends the signal that single men are less human than people with families or minors. "What do they need to do to deserve a sheltered place in the country, to be treated like humans?" she asked.

Pictures of Prime Minister Alexander de Croo and de Moor at the occupied building on Rue de la Loi, in Brussels. Credit: Belga/ Justin Namur

Thomas Willekens of Refugee Work Flanders (Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen), who said the decision was completely unexpected and incomprehensible, told The Brussels Times that the country already finds itself in a perilous situation ahead of the winter.

"We are really not in good shape. Fedasil is already facing a shortage of spaces for people arriving in a family context. It shows the problem is already acute. This deficit is not eliminated if they free up rooms for men, as they can hold just two people. What do you do then when a family of five needs shelter? This will not make fixing this puzzle easier."

Dumping issue on Brussels

Both Doutrepont and Willekens also stressed that this decision will not deter refugees, including single men, from coming to Belgium, meaning it will likely result in hundreds of additional people having to sleep rough on the streets.

For this reason, the decision was also heavily criticised by several Brussels politicians. Environment Minister Alain Maron argued that it will lead to a yet another increase of homeless people, adding that it was made "with no care and no prospects."

"This will have deleterious effects in Brussels in any case, and not just around the Midi Station. The Federal Government must assume its national and international responsibilities and obligations," he added.

This opinion was shared by Brussels Employment Minister Bernard Clerfayt, who said the Federal Government has once again reneged on its obligation to house all asylum seekers. "By doing so, it is leaving thousands of migrants to wander the streets and railway stations of Brussels," also referring to the ongoing discussion regarding the situation at the Brussels-Midi Station.

Political choice

De Moor has continued to stress that she has opened new centres despite facing political opposition, adding that measures taken over the past year have prevented an explosion of asylum applications in Belgium. "Countries like Germany are in worse shape." She again argued that the spread of asylum applications in Europe is unequally divided, adding that this highlights the need for the EU Migration Deal.

But both Willekens and Doutrepont argued that more can be done and that NGOs and lawyers on the ground have suggested many other solutions to prevent such disasters. "We have been creative, we have offered so many other solutions, but these are always just thrown in the bin," Doutrepont said.

Banners during a protest against the government's handling of the reception crisis. One sign reads "shelter for all" while the other reads "This is not a crisis, it is a state crime." Credit: Belga

She fears that, ahead of the Belgian elections in 2024, the smear campaign will continue. "If they see they will win more votes by breaking the law than by following it, they will keep doing this, and they will keep violating the laws."

Willekens explained that the Reception Law in Belgium allows the Federal Government to implement the so-called "distribution plan," forcing every municipality to take a certain number of asylum seekers in crisis situations and to solve the shortage of reception places.

"It is a political choice not to apply this principle. For us, it is just completely inhumane. We find ourselves in a humanitarian crisis, and instead of acting on this basis, the Federal Government is putting political considerations and working on so-called 'sustainable EU solution' first."

Related News

Copyright © 2024 The Brussels Times. All Rights Reserved.