Defence Ministry pledges 1,500 new reception places for asylum seekers

Defence Ministry pledges 1,500 new reception places for asylum seekers
Credit: Belga/Eric Lalmand

Following a failure to reach an agreement on a large reception centre earlier this week, Belgium's Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder confirmed that her department will create 1,500 additional sheltered places for asylum seekers by December.

The Ministry of Defence will help Belgium's Federal asylum agency Fedasil, to build a new reception site on an as-of-yet unknown location. Now, due to a lack of places, many asylum seekers do not receive the shelter they are legally entitled to and have to sleep on the streets.

The aim is to create 500 additional reception places by 1 November and another 1,000 by 1 December.

"A first, necessary, step in the reception crisis. I am not cheering yet. There are still hundreds of men and dozens of minors sleeping on the streets," said Thomas Willekens of Flanders Refugee Work (Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen) reacted on Twitter. "We will continue to monitor this from civil society and do what we can to help those on the streets."

Sites of the army, civil protection and the directorate of buildings are being considered to create the places, but no decision has been made. In any case, the site will not be operated by Defence staff members.

Earlier on Thursday, Fedasil was ordered by the court to close an asylum centre in Molenbeek-Saint-Jean as soon as possible, because the centre is located in a residential neighbourhood and is non-compliant with urban planning.

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As a result, Fedasil is losing 400 reception places at a time when many people, including unaccompanied minors and families with young children, do not always have a sheltered place the spend the night.

State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor will submit a dossier to the Brussels-Capital Region to request an exception.

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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