Immigration services in Belgium followed up on only 1 in 3 requests for asylum in April, the height of the coronavirus epidemic in Belgium.
According to figures reported by a Flemish refugee advocacy organisation Vluchtelingenwerk, out of the 879 applicants who submitted a request online, only 257 were called back for an appointment.
Being called to complete registration entitles those applicants to meals and accommodation, while the remaining 621 who are still waiting to hear back are left to fend for themselves, with the immigration offices saying they had no information on their whereabouts.
“It is an unsustainable situation,” Vluchtelingenwerk’s Geert Bossaerts said in an interview on Radio 1. “The rights of asylum seekers are being violated and this leads to harrowing situations.”
After the coronavirus lockdown went into force in Belgium, immigration services announced they would shut down and stop receiving new applications and reviewing ongoing files, citing understaffing problems.
Through a sign posted in front of an immigration and asylum centre in Brussels, some three weeks after services shut down, asylum-seekers have since been instructed to file an online application in order to get an appointment to begin registration.
Explanatory notes in a range of languages, including English, Spanish and Arabic, are available but applicants are instructed to fill the form in either French or Dutch.
“If you don’t master those languages, you can’t do that without assistance,” Bossaerts said in the interview.
According to the association, “whole families with children can be seen waiting in the streets” of Brussels’ northern districts, where the immigration offices are.
“They have completed an online form and they don’t know what to do next,” the organisation told VRT.
The press services of the Immigration Office and of sdfg did not immediately reply to a request for comment.