Asylum seekers who 'abuse the system' may be arrested, De Block says

Asylum seekers who 'abuse the system' may be arrested, De Block says
Credit: Belga

Belgian minister of Asylum and Migration, Maggie de Block, wants to tighten measures for asylum seekers who refuse to leave the country. Those who decide to stay in Belgium may be arrested.

The measures apply for so-called ‘Dublin’ asylum seekers, who account for 43% of asylum seekers in Belgium. Dublin asylum seekers are people who first registered in a different EU state before coming here, and they can only receive asylum from there.

The current Dublin regulation aims to “ensure quick access to asylum procedures and the examination of an application on the merits by a single, clearly determined Member State”, and came as a response to the refugee crisis in 2017. Asylum seekers have to apply for refuge in the first country they arrive in, and stay there until they are either rejected or accepted. When rejected, they have to return to their country of origin.

The Dublin asylum seekers who will be affected by these rules are those who did not stay in their country of arrival, but rather moved through Europe and into Belgium, which is not allowed.

Following the regulation, asylum seekers are spread as fairly as possible over all the member states, to alleviate pressure on local immigration services.

According to the European Commission, this “ensure[s] fair sharing of responsibility” and “discourage[s] abuses and prevent secondary movements by requiring proportionate procedural and material consequences in case of non-compliance”.

In 2019, Belgium filed 11,882 Dublin-applications, asking fellow member states to take accountability for the asylum seekers that first started the procedure in their respective countries. Less than 10% of asylum seekers then effectively returned to the country they first arrived in, according to De Standaard.

“We need to offer protection and shelter to those who really need it, but we need to act firmly against the ones trying to abuse the system,” De Block stated.

“Those who abuse the asylum procedure put an unnecessary workload on our asylum department and add high pressure to our shelter network. That has to stop.”

To prevent the so-called ‘Dubliners’ from eluding and disappearing, asylum seekers could now be arrested, De Block indicated. The Immigration Office (Dienst voor Vreemdelingenzaken) will be freeing up extra spaces in closed facilities.

In case an asylum seeker chooses not to cooperate and return to the initial place of arrival, the transfer period will now automatically be extended from six to 18 months.

Right now, De Block said, asylum seekers often aim to stay in Belgium for six months, because failure to leave the country in this period would then make the Belgian authorities responsible for their case.

“They remain under the radar for an extended period of time and wait, apparently without a need for shelter, until Belgium will be responsible for their asylum request.”

This is “abusive” to the Belgian immigration services and the Dublin regulations, according to the minister.

In previous months, De Block has taken measures to exclude Dublin-asylum seekers from asylum shelters. The Belgian court was critical of these measures, ruling that shelters should accept the asylum seekers and provide them with care in times of Covid-19.

Amée Zoutberg

The Brussels Times

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