The first of several hundred refugees have begun arriving at the former Mercure Hotel in the Brussels neighbourhood of Evere, where an emergency reception centre was opened to help handle the overwhelming number of asylum seekers in the country.
The creation of this centre and another emergency one were announced in early December, and the European Asylum Office also stepped in to launch an aid operation that was their first one in a country not directly on a European border.
Evere’s new reception center was always scheduled for the end of December.
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“We not only had to put in extra beds, mattresses and hygiene kits, but also recruit staff,” explained Marie Polard from the Red Cross, who is responsible for managing the building.
“We managed to find people, mainly from the surrounding area in combination with experienced staff from the Red Cross.”
Refugees were sleeping on the streets
The centre will mainly accommodate single men, many of whom have been sleeping on the streets of Brussels in order to avoid losing their spot in long lines of other asylum seekers.
“In the past weeks, we saw that families with children, women or unaccompanied foreign minors were often eventually accommodated. With the arrival of this centre, we also want to get the single men off the streets,” said Polard.
“It is a humanitarian challenge not to let anyone sleep on the streets. As a humanitarian player, running this centre fits in with our mission.”
The hotel, just like the long-overrun Klein Kasteeltje (Petit-Château) centre in Brussels, will accomodate refugees for only a short time.
It serves as a place where people can submit their asylum applications and the idea is that after a few weeks, or months at most, they will move on to more permanent structures.
Long-term extra capacity
The centre was set up in consultation with federal agency Fedasil and the municipality of Evere and will be managed by the Red Cross at the request of State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi (CD&V).
The aim is to create a buffer of 5,400 places, directly on top of the almost 30,000 permanent reception places in the Fedasil network. It’s possible that the former Hotel Mercure will be activated as an asylum centre more often in the future.
“I will not do what my predecessors did and deactivate all the extra places in March,” Mahdi said on BRUZZ radio.