'No children sleeping on the street tonight,' says Asylum State Secretary

'No children sleeping on the street tonight,' says Asylum State Secretary
Asylum seekers' shelter near the Immigration Services building. Credit: Lauren Walker

After Belgium has repeatedly failed to provide asylum seekers with shelter with unaccompanied minors sleeping rough for over a week, State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor has now announced that no children would be on the streets tonight.

In the Chamber on Thursday, de Moor was questioned about the asylum reception crisis that has been ongoing for over a year now, following the news that single men, unaccompanied minors and now also families with children (one as young as six months old) will be sent back to the streets despite the fact that they are legally entitled to shelter.

"I call on everyone to come out of the ideological trenches and work together for solutions," said de Moor, referring to the fact that the federal ministers failed to reach an agreement on opening a large-scale humanitarian emergency shelter on Wednesday evening.

Following that meeting, Thomas Willekens of Refugee Work Flanders stated that the lack of agreement at the federal level was "another heavy blow" to the midfield organisations that are trying to offer the shelter that the Belgian State should provide.

"The urgency is still lacking. Even after minors are already sleeping on the street every day, and families have to wait and see every day," he added. "How far are they going to let this go?"

Last week, ministers agreed to temporarily assign 150 staff members from other departments to Belgium's Federal Asylum agency Fedasil in order to increase capacity and to better deal with the acute shortage of staff in reception centres. However, a short-term solution is not in place.

However, the Brussels Regional Government and de Moor did find an agreement on the emergency shelter of 40 unaccompanied minors from Thursday evening, in a building in the municipality of Ixelles.

This agreement followed outrage over the fact that the mayor of Brussels City Philippe Close ordered 17 cardboard tents in which underage migrants were sleeping to be destroyed for two days in a row.

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In the Chamber on Thursday, all political groups – including every party represented in the Federal Government – questioned de Moor on the lack of sheltered places.

"The good news is that everyone agrees that children do not belong on the street, but everyone points to each other for the solutions," said MPs for the radical left PTB-PVDA party Greet Daems and Flemish leftwing Vooruit party Ben Segers.

In the short-term, shelter could be arranged for all families with children and for all unaccompanied minors on Thursday, said de Moor. However, this still leaves single adult men – who are also legally entitled to shelter – on the streets.

Belgium's reception crisis explained

For more than a year now, hundreds of asylum seekers have been sleeping rough as a result of Belgium's failure to provide them with the shelter they are legally entitled to.

Fedasil, Belgium's Federal Asylum agency, operates several reception centres across Belgium (of which Petit Château in Brussels has become the most notorious), where people who have been granted asylum in the country should receive a bed, bath and food (or a sheltered place).

Once the rush of asylum seekers coming to the country temporarily slowed down following the migration crisis, the government reduced the number of sheltered places, closing down Fedasil centres.

Since October last year, this figure is once again increased slowly, and the government is not responding to the rise in demand for sheltered places.

Instead, it created a waiting list which prioritised minors and families with children, leaving single men to sleep on the streets, and resulting in Fedasil being convicted more than 4,500 times for failing to provide shelter.

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