150 Syrian asylum seekers due to be welcomed in Belgium by religious communities
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    150 Syrian asylum seekers due to be welcomed in Belgium by religious communities

    A “statement of intent”  will be signed this afternoon, in Brussels, by the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Theo Francken (New Flemish Alliance), and representatives of acknowledged religions in Belgium. This relates to the arrival in 2018, thanks to private funds, of 150 Syrian migrants. These will not be accommodated by Fedasil (normally responsible for the reception of asylum seekers) after their arrival, but indeed by several different religious communities.

    The project, which is called “humanitarian corridors”, will be coordinated by the secular-Christian community Sant’Egidio, which lays claim to being the initiator of the project, and is speaking upon this subject on Wednesday evening. This is so as to welcome 150 people of Syrian nationality, who will arrive in Belgium from Turkey and Lebanon, with a humanitarian visa.

    The Community of Sant’Egidio says, “Once they arrive in our country, they will be able to make a request for asylum and build a new future. Throughout the duration of the procedure to request asylum, they will not be accommodated in a Fedasil centre. However religious communities from throughout Belgium will look after them.” The Community of Sant’Egidio is replicating agreements already developed in Italy and France, throughout the whole of Belgium.

    The New Flemish Alliance Secretary of State had already indicated during the afternoon, on his Twitter account, that a “press conference with Sant’Egidio” was on his schedule for the following day. The text will also, in particular, be signed by Cardinal Jozef De Kesel.

    Specifically, Theo Francken “is undertaking” to issue a humanitarian visa to 150 Syrians expected in 2018. This will enable them to travel safely to Belgium where they will be able to seek asylum in due form. In the words of Jan De Volder from the Community of Sant’Egidio, the candidates will indeed be “checked in advance so that the authorities know the profile of the individuals who are coming to Belgium.” This message was relayed in the Community’s communiqué.

    One they have arrived in Belgium, responsibility for the majority of them will rest with the Catholic dioceses, but in collaboration with the Belgian branch of the NGO Caritas Internationalis (the confederation for relief, development and social services). However “Protestant, Evangelical, Orthodox and Anglican churches and the Jewish and Muslim communities will also specifically contribute to welcoming these asylum seekers.”

    The journey and the reception will be entirely, financially and in practice the responsibility of private associations, or acknowledged religions in Belgium. These will also undertake to provide a one-year support programme, intended to support the integration pathway for these asylum-seeker candidates.

    Theo Francken commented, “This is a positive initiative which will add to the 1,150 refugees which our country will welcome in 2018, as part of the EU Relocation Programme.”

    The Community of Sant’Egidio asserts that the 150 beneficiaries of this initiative will be identified on the basis of “vulnerability.” The Community mentions “families with children”, but also “older people” and “individuals with specialist medical needs.”

    Oscar Schneider
    The Brussels Times