'Only taking in Ukrainian refugees is illegal,' says Migration Minister

'Only taking in Ukrainian refugees is illegal,' says Migration Minister
Asylum seekers from Ukraine wait to register at the old Jules Bordet hospital in Brussels. Credit: Belga

Belgium should temporarily suspend asylum applications from non-Ukrainians to make room for Ukrainian refugees, proposed the Flemish far-right Vlaams Belang party on Tuesday.

Up to 200,000 refugees from Ukraine are expected to come to Belgium, State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi said last week, based on figures from the UNHCR. These people will come on top of the 28,267 refugees already in the country's asylum centres, according to Fedasil's latest figures.

On Tuesday, Vlaams Belang chairman Tom Van Grieken said on Flemish radio that he wants to temporarily suspend the asylum applications of all non-Ukrainians. “After all, the war that is being fought just 2,000 kilometres from our door is an exceptional emergency, and necessity knows no law,” he said in a statement.

Mahdi, however, called his proposal illegal and disrespectful. "Freezing asylum applications from people coming from Syria or Afghanistan, for example, is not only legally impossible – it shows little respect for people fleeing violence," he said.

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“But from a party of which [leading member] Filip Dewinter proudly took a picture with Assad (President/dictator of Syria) and from whom Putin could count on a lot of sympathy until recently, I would not have expected anything else,” he added.

Additionally, Vlaams Belang also wants to make a financial support deal with the EU Member States bordering Ukraine: Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Romania. “The neighbouring countries always have to endure the greatest pressure, and we have to show solidarity in this,” said Van Grieken.

Mahdi recalled that Van Grieken's party was not in favour of setting up emergency villages for fleeing Ukrainians and instead wanted to use that money to arrange reception in countries such as Poland, which already counted over 1.5 million refugees.

"I can only hope for one thing and that is that, should there ever be a reason that we have to flee Belgium, the leaders of other European countries will not share Mr. Van Grieken's ideas," he said. "Otherwise, he may not be welcome anywhere.”

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