Belgium's Immigration Office has instructed dozens of municipalities to strip children born in Belgium to Palestinian parents of their Belgian nationality, L'Echo reports.
According to a spokesperson for Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor (CD&V), the orders have nothing to do with the ongoing conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.
"The Immigration Office is in contact with several municipalities on this subject," said Bart Tierens. "For example, after a correspondence, the City of Antwerp indicated that it would look into the issue. Contacts with the municipalities have existed since August, so months before the start of the recent conflict. This [issue] must be considered regardless of the conflict."
Tierens added that 2,595 applications for asylum were made by Palestinians in Belgium so far this year, of which 66% were ultimately successful. However, he said that the Belgian authorities remain concerned about potential "abuses" of the country's asylum system.
"The Immigration Office regularly notes that Palestinians in the European Union go to Belgium to have children there in order to acquire Belgian citizenship and, consequently, to benefit from family reunification," he said.
"[We will] fight against practices where people who do not have the right to do so try to possess Belgian nationality," he added.
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Human rights lawyers strongly pushed back against the government's policy.
"Beyond the timing which is completely detestable and adds fuel to the fire, this is a legally scandalous practice, because the Immigration Office has no competence in matters of nationality and cannot give orders to the municipalities," said Julien Wolsey, the President of the Association for the Right of Foreigners.
In addition to Antwerp, L'Echo reports that demands to strip children of their nationality were made in Liège, the Brussels-Capital Region, and East Flanders.