Flanders is reaching saturation point where the reception of Ukrainian refugees is concerned, according to regional officials.
"We are stretched to the limit," Home Affairs Minister Bart Somers said on Tuesday in the Flemish Parliament.
Flanders receives 60% of the Ukrainians that have opted to travel to Belgium, and it wants to continue doing so. The region is counting, among other things, on cities and municipalities that have made little effort so far to step up to the plate. It also plans to add tourist lodgings to the list but maintains that Wallonia needs to step up its contribution.
Flanders is hosting its full share of the refugees right now, and "the south of the country has to do it too,” Somers said in response to a question from Flemish parliamentarian Maaike De Vreese.
Of the nearly 50,000 Ukrainian refugees listed in the national register, 29,705 are registered in the Flemish region. This puts Flanders close to the 60% agreed upon with the other regions, according to Jeroen Windey, chairman of the Flemish Task Force on Ukraine.
The problem is Wallonia
Brussels Capital Region, with 19%, is clearly above its 10% benchmark, but Wallonia, with 21% percent, remains well below the agreed 30%.
“We, in Flanders, are doing what we promised. Then we may also ask the other regions to do the same. Brussels is not to blame. They are doing more than their share. But the problem is in the south of the country. We may call them to account,” said Minister Somers.
Nieuwe-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA) parliamentarian De Vreese agreed. “Flanders is doing its part. It is logical that the other regions are expected to do the same. It is shameful that in Brussels, families with children have to sleep on the streets. That cannot be justified,” De Vreese said.
Somers also called for an effort at the federal level. For example, he said, it was a good thing that in the meantime, people are once again being referred from the Ariane transit centre, “but that only happens for vulnerable displaced persons." "We ask that Fedasil - the federal agency for the reception of asylum-seekers - take charge once again of the central allocation and not only for the most vulnerable,” Somers said.
Municipalities sometimes unwilling to give up sleeping places
According to Somers, Flanders wants to do its part, “But we are at the limit,” he said.
For example, there are currently 667 sleeping places still available. However, according to top official Jeroen Windey, the municipalities are not always eager to give up those places because they like to keep a buffer, for example, for when individuals no longer see fit to house the Ukrainians they have taken in,
Minister Somers said he understood the municipalities, but wanted to look at how Flanders could continue to keep its 60% promise. One way is to “mobilise” municipalities that have made little effort for the time being. “We are not going to oblige them, but we are going to accost them,” said Somers.
Another way is to look in the direction of tourist accomodation. “The goal was to find 3,000 places there, but for now there are only a few dozen. There is room for more effort on our part,” Somers said.