Today is International Day of the Migrant, and the subject remains prominent in the headlines in Belgium. The returning minister for Asylum and Migration Maggie De Block (photo)has announced the creation of “about a hundred” extra accommodation places for asylum-seekers, and has asked the asylum agency Fedasil to look into whether such a move is possible. The agency replied that it can be done, but it would take a decision by the government to make it happen.
Whether that might happen in practice, however, has been called into question by De Block’s predecessor, N-VA’s Theo Francken, who left the government with his party colleagues over the UN’s Migration Pact. According to Francken, the federal budget currently the subject of discussion within the minority coalition, is “unrealistic” if the new migration policies are to be implemented.
N-VA took part in drawing up the budget proposals while it was still in the government, and when Francken was in charge of a controversial and more draconian policy towards asylum and migration. One of De Block’s first moves was to announce an end to Francken’s policy of limiting the number of asylum applications dealt with by the Office for Foreigners to 50 a day – although the policy change has not been implemented immediately.
The promise of about a hundred new accommodation places, meanwhile, does not go far enough, according to NGOs working with refugees. While 100 new beds will help alleviate the situation – for example where the North station in Brussels is swamped when evening falls by migrants seeking shelter – in the long run the number needed will be more likely to count around a thousand.
At the same time as announcing a slight new openness, De Block has also, even before officially taking up her new position, closed another door. Refugees coming from the Gaza Strip, she has announced, should no longer be systematically considered for asylum, but instead each application should be evaluated case by case. The move would need the approval of the independent Commissariat General for Refugees and Displaced Persons.