Dozens of Salvadorian nationals who had sought asylum in Belgium have been sent back to their home country, in the first batch of voluntary returns led by Belgium’s new migration chief.
Federal State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi announced that a chartered flight carrying 77 Salvadorians departed from Belgium on Thursday.
Mahdi said that the passengers were “not entitled to residence in Belgium” and said their departure was organised with cooperation with Salvadorian authorities and the International Organisation for Migration.
The voluntary return on Thursday was the first one carried out via a chartered flight since 2016 due to a large number of requests to take part in the scheme, according to Mahdi.
Mahdi, who has vowed to double down on organising voluntary returns, said that a large number of requests last year had come from Salvadorians.
“El Salvador will be among the top 5 countries for applications for international protection in 2020,” Mahdi said in an online statement.
A total of 503 applications from residents from El Salvador were recorded up to an including the month of September this year. Last year, out of 1,369 applications recorded from Salvadorians, Belgium granted asylum or international protection to 120.
Immigration from Latin America to Europe has been on the rise in recent years as people from countries ravaged by criminal violence trade the US for the Old Continent, deterred by American authorities’ crackdown on immigration and reports of human rights abuses, including the separation of children from their parents.
Many from Central America are fleeing widespread gang violence and intimidation, including parents who fear their children will be recruited, killed or kidnapped.
Mahdi said the number of nationals from El Salvador coming to Belgium was “disproportionately high” compared to other European countries and said most of them “are now being told that they will not receive asylum.”
The state secretary said that some of the people who were flown back on Thursday did so despite the fact that their asylum applications were still pending.
“[They] already decided that return is the best option for them,” he said.