Services and reception centres for asylum seekers in Belgium have started shutting down and turning away newcomers in efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic in the country.
The Federal Immigration Office said it would close down and no longer review new or existing applications for political asylum from Tuesday.
The office cited the aggravating seriousness brought on by the spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) in the country as a central reason behind the decision to suspend what both the EU and UN protect as the fundamental right to asylum.
With a maximum reception capacity of around 200 applications per day, the office said that they were currently understaffed and struggled to handle the 40 cases they had on Monday, De Tijd reports.
A housing centre for asylum seekers near Brussels’ Dansaert district also announced that it was shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic from Tuesday.
“Today, employees will continue to inform applicants that they have to return at an undetermined time,” Geert De Vulder, a spokesperson for the immigration office said on radio. “Every day there are between 100 and 150 people in the waiting room — we want to avoid that.”
De Vulder admitted that the decision did not include provisions to prevent the move from pushing asylum-seekers with no housing solutions out on the streets.
“There is currently no solution for this. There is no provision for childcare, either,” he said, noting that they could not be entitled to any assistance before filing their applications.
On Monday Fedasil, the federal body managing housing centres for refugees and asylum seekers, said that all applicants were medically screened upon arrival in the centre, named Le Petit-Château Fedasil, and that those who presented symptoms were isolated under medical supervision, De Standaard reports.
The Commissioner-General for Refugees, which accompanies applicants through the asylum procedure, has also stopped all meetings with new and existing applicants until further notice, a move mimicked by the Council for Alien Disputes, which deals with appeals.