'Illogical and inefficient': Belgium needs unified migration system, says State Secretary

'Illogical and inefficient': Belgium needs unified migration system, says State Secretary
Asylum seekers waiting at the entrance of the Fedasil registration. Credit: Belga/James Arthuer Gekiere

Belgium needs one unified asylum and migration service to make the procedure smoother as the current fragmented structure is "not efficient," State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor said after a review of the system.

Anyone wishing to seek asylum or international protection in Belgium must first register with the Immigration Department (DVZ). Their file is then examined by the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons, while the Fedasil service is responsible for receiving the applicants – a tangled structure that has evolved this way over time.

"That is the range of tasks the services have been given over the years, but today it is sometimes an illogical division of labour between them," De Moor said on Flemish radio on Tuesday morning, adding that the immigration services are also dealing with a dire staff shortage and a lack of digitalisation.

On top of that, Belgium is dealing with a reception crisis, resulting in long queues of asylum seekers waiting at the Klein Kasteeltje centre in Brussels and many of them being left to sleep on the streets as the authorities fail to offer them shelter.

'A logical step'

The need for intervention clearly arises, said De Moor. This government's former State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi – who has now gone on to become chair of the Christian-Democrat CD&V party – had previously ordered an audit report of the services, which is now ready.

Based on those findings, current State Secretary De Moor now advocates a unified asylum and migration service in Belgium. "It is certainly feasible, it is a logical step. Staff deserve the structures and tools that can facilitate their work."

The current lack of efficiency is evident from the exchange of information between departments, among other things. "Information from one service is given to another service on paper, which leads to a whole mountain of physical paperwork."

While exchanging information between the Immigration Department (DVZ) and Fedasil does happen via email, it could be made a lot more efficient as well. "Every four minutes, an email leaves from DVZ to Fedasil with an Excel list of the day's registrations. That could be much better."

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To that end, De Moor is working on a blueprint for a new unified migration service, which will take into account the need for objectivity in the processing of an asylum application. "That is incredibly important to me. It is not for politicians to judge whether someone is safe in their country of origin or not. That objectivity can and must be preserved in a future new structure."

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However, implementing that new structure will be a long-term project, which is why De Moor also wants to work with recommendations from the audit in the short term. "This concerns a more flexible personnel policy where we need to be able to recruit people much faster. The same applies to the digitalisation of services."

In the meantime, De Moor was harshly criticised by Federal MP for the Flemish rightwing N-VA party Theo Francken, who was Belgium's State Secretary for Asylum and Migration between 2014 and 2018.

Francken stated that it is "unacceptable" that De Moor reportedly shared the audit report and her plans with the press before informing MPs in the Chamber.

In response, De Moor set the record straight by clarifying that the audit report has not been shared with the press and will be "explained in detail" in Parliament on Tuesday. "An audit report does not have to be delivered to Parliament, but I will still do so. Transparent as it should be."

Additionally, she also stressed that the report will be presented to the Parliament not by her, but by the firm which did the audit. "Independent as it should be. I consciously opted for transparency both to Parliament and to the public. I hope we will be able to talk about the content from now on."

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