Over 100 asylum seekers sleeping on street outside reception centre

Over 100 asylum seekers sleeping on street outside reception centre
Refugees wait outside the Petit Château (Little Castle) Fedasil registration centre for asylum seekers in Brussels. 7 December 2021. Credit: Belga / Virginie Lefour

More than 100 asylum seekers are being forced to sleep in the street outside the Brussels reception centre for refugees, the Petit Château, as announced by various humanitarian aid organisations in a press release on Tuesday.

Among the asylum seekers are unaccompanied minors and families with children, the organisations denounced. The organisations include Vluchtelingenwerk, Doctors of the World, MSF, Samusocial, Coordination and initiatives for refugees and foreigners (CIRE) and the Citizen Platform.

Insufficient solutions

The organisations denounced the untenable situation and deem the reception solutions proposed by the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor "insufficient".

“De Moor plans to make 750 places available in tents, but only in August, and their deployment will be done gradually,” said Sotieta Ngo, Director of CIRE. She deems this solution insufficient, estimating that 1,500 places are necessary to respond to this emergency.

Accommodation in tents remains an unsuitable long-term solution, as evidenced by the situation on the Greek island of Lesbos, the humanitarian organisations say.

The organisations are also calling on De Moor to avoid a two-tier policy, referring to the difference in treatment between refugees.

“While Ukrainian refugees are - rightly - helped relatively quickly and efficiently, people of other nationalities are sent to the streets, or at best, to tents,” they said.

Precarious conditions

The organisations are concerned that the situation will become untenable from the week of July 25, as heatwaves are heatwaves are alternating with severe storms.

“The scenes observed today in front of the Petit Château are reminiscent of those observed last winter,” the organisations warn. “People sleeping under the stars for several days in a row in extremely precarious conditions, the rain and cold having given way to a heatwave.”

“We are witnessing a spectacular increase in the number of people who sleep in front of the Petit Château, going from around 20 at the end of March to more than 100 in recent days,” said Gratien Ruffo from Samusocial.

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“Asylum seekers sometimes have to wait more than two weeks for the court decision before receiving a reception place,” added Tine Claus, director of Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen.

Marc Genet, director general of Doctors of the World, adds that some of the people need medical and/or psychological care, meaning spending the night outside is unthinkable.

The organisations call on the Belgian government to “urgently focus on providing crisis reception, in order to prevent people from sleeping rough and joining the ranks of homeless people”.

“Once this problem has been solved, an adequate and effective reception policy should be put in place, which is structural, egalitarian and respectful of human rights,” they concluded.

Shortage of reception centres

Meanwhile, the refugee transit centre Ariane in Woluwe-Saint-Lambert is currently housing 1,070 refugees who have no place to go due to a shortage of reception centres.

The issue is a major bottleneck in the reception of refugees, with many left to find accommodation but unable to do so with no fixed address.

Refugees can only receive a living wage once they are registered in a municipality. As long as they do not have a permanent address, they cannot work, open a bank account, receive financial support, or access Belgian schools.

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