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Belgium resumes on-site reception of asylum seekers

© Belga

Belgium has reinstated physical registrations for political asylum just in time to avoid hefty penalties for failing to shelter applicants after registrations were moved online during the pandemic.

State Secretary for Asylum Sammy Mahdi announced the resumption of the on-site procedures on Tuesday, following a test day held on 30 October.

“Physical registration is going smoothly, police present and everyone wearing a mouth mask,” Mahdi said in a tweet, sharing a photo showing a police van and four officers stationed in front of the offices, housed in Brussels’ Klein Kasteeltje.

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The decision follows a court ruling on 7 October which condemned Belgium for failing to shelter to asylum seekers even after they have had submitted an asylum application online, in violation of national and international laws.

The court ruling ordered Belgium to snap back into regulation by 6 November or face a fine of €2,500 for every day it failed to do so.

Asylum applications were moved online during the first wave of the pandemic by former secretary of state for asylum, Maggie De Block, slowing down response times and material assistance for the applicants who managed to submit one.

“People who are entitled to asylum must be given shelter,” Mahdi said in an online statement. “Letting these people hang out in the street is not a good solution — not for them and not for us and certainly not in COVID times, the virus makes no distinction.”

Mahdi said that the resumption of physical applications would follow all social distancing guidelines and noted that the online registration system implemented by his predecessor made the asylum procedure “run more smoothly.”

His statements contrast with reports by advocacy groups who said the shift to online applications had resulted in only 1 out of every 3 applicants receiving a response in April, when the first wave of the pandemic peaked.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times