Molenbeek residents bring warmth to asylum-seeker neighbours sleeping in tents

Molenbeek residents bring warmth to asylum-seeker neighbours sleeping in tents
Screenshot from video of Molenbeek residents handing out soup and tea to their 'neighbours from the bridge', in Brussels. Those are refugees having to sleep in tents in the cold. The residents complain that the Belgian authorities are not taking action. Video credit: Nils Quintelier / Belga

Molenbeek residents extended warmth and kindness to asylum seekers living in tents near the Petit Chateau by bringing soup, tea and lighting fires on Monday night while criticising the government for creating a problem it now leaves on the shoulders of locals.

The nights are getting colder and yet, numerous asylum seekers have no more than a tent to escape the temperatures. "For a year now we have seen the situation deteriorate," Katrijn Dehantschutter told De Standaard, "Whereas they used to sleep on the streets for a night or two, we now see people sleeping in those festival tents for weeks and even months."

Screenshot from video of Molenbeek residents handing out soup and tea to their 'neighbours from the bridge', in Brussels. Those neighbours are refugees having to sleep in tents in the cold. The residents complain that the Belgian authorities are not taking action. Video credit: Nils Quintelier / Belga

Belgium’s reception crisis began over a year ago with hundreds of people, mostly young men, not given shelter that they are legally entitled to, with the Petit Chateau reception centre for asylum seekers at the heart of the crisis.

Dehantschutter lives opposite the bridge where, together with her neighbours, she arranged to bring soup and tea to the people who were forced to flee their countries and now find themselves without a home or guaranteed meal. The Molenbeek neighbours want to get to know their so-called "neighbours from the bridge" while offering them a dose of kindness and simultaneously sending a signal that the reception crisis is affecting them too.

Half an hour before their initiative began, cold and hungry people surrounded them, attracted by the warmth of the barbecue where many were seen trying to warm themselves up.

Screenshot from video of Molenbeek residents handing out soup and tea to their 'neighbours from the bridge', in Brussels. Seen above are men who were forced to brace the cold in nothing more than tents trying to warm up near a fire. Video credit: Nils Quintelier / Belga

"When I wake up at night and hear the rain tapping on the windows, I can't sleep. Fifty metres from my door there are people in terrible conditions. And no one looks after them," said Dehantschutter. Her neighbour, Lizzy Byloos, added that they see these people every day: "As human beings, what are you supposed to do with that?"

Byloos added that not all of the neighbours helping out have the same views of migration but that we cannot ignore that "our government has made a rule for itself that it has to provide shelter to these people. Time it followed its own rules and laws."

One neighbour, who preferred not to provide their name, explained the removal of the tents by police force. These tents are the only shelter the asylum seekers have. "As if that would make the problem suddenly disappear. If Brussels Mayor Philippe Close wants there to be no tent camps in Brussels, he should just provide shelter."

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While it is not the hope that this initiative would be a weekly occurrence, it is highly likely that it will. Once again, volunteers are bearing the burden instead of the Federal Government. "It is not normal for citizens to have to take care of the misery created by the government. We just want these guys to have somewhere to go. This is not normal," sighed Dehantschutter.

The group of shelter-less people waiting on the cold streets of Brussels continues to grow with 84 men told on Monday that there was no room for them.


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