Asylum reception crisis: Academics denounce 'flagrant disregard' for rule of law

"This has significant implications for confidence in political institutions," the constitutional law experts noted.

Asylum reception crisis: Academics denounce 'flagrant disregard' for rule of law
A man at a makeshift tent migrant camp on Flagey square in September 2023. Credit: Kristof van Accom

Academics have expressed their dismay at the government's decision to turn a blind eye to a ruling by the Council of State to suspend the decision to no longer offer shelter to single male asylum seekers.

Some 30 constitutional law professors from Belgian universities wrote an open letter in two newspapers, De Standaard and Le Soir, calling on the Federal Government to respect the rule of law. This follows State Secretary for Migration Nicole de Moor openly announcing she would ignore a ruling by the Council of State.

"For almost two years now, the government has refused to abide by judicial decisions on the reception of asylum seekers," the signatories noted.

"As constitutional specialists charged with teaching the principle of the rule of law, we know that that principle is not easy to define. But one thing is absolutely certain: that principle always requires the executive to respect judicial decisions," it reads.

'Significant political implications'

At the end of August, de Moor announced the country would temporarily stop providing single men who are applying for asylum in Belgium with shelter, despite it being a legal entitlement. Several associations took the matter to court.

The Council of State suspended the implementation of the decision almost three weeks later, arguing that it does not respect the right to reception conferred on all asylum seekers by the law. De Moor responded that the suspension of the Council of State "would not ensure that we suddenly have room for everyone," adding that her policy would remain unchanged.

The Federal Government and Fedasil, the agency in charge of providing shelter, have ignored the law on multiple occasions. Both have been convicted thousands of times for already failing to provide shelter to asylum seekers, but have not respected the rulings by not making any changes but also not paying the imposed fines.

A banner reads "asylum seekers still without shelter, and the only guilty party is the state" at a protest against de Moor's decision at the end of August. Credit: Lauren Walker/The Brussels Times

In December last year, a coalition of Brussels-based law professionals and civil organisations staged a funeral for the rule of law, as a result of the State's refusal to comply with rulings, outside the offices of Federal Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne.

Almost a year after the stunt, the same coalition is still calling out the assault on democratic principles – namely how public authorities have refused to submit to the law and respect decisions handed down by the courts.

"For the executive to ignore the decision of a court constitutes a clear and serious violation of the rule of law and the principle of legal certainty. This has significant implications for confidence in political institutions," the open letter read.

One of the experts, Pascale Monteiro Barreto, President of the Magistrates Association, considers this a "serious turning point" for democracy. "We're getting closer and closer to a slide towards unbridled authoritarianism that doesn't recognise its nature."

The signatories called on the government "to put an end to the flagrant disregard for one of the most important principles of the organisation of our state," and called for a meeting with the government to discuss necessary steps.

Drama continues

Since de Moor's decision, the asylum reception crisis in the country has continued to worsen. Soon after, it was confirmed that some 140 asylum seekers in an abandoned building on Rue de la Loi 91 would be removed from the building.

The inhabitants first entered the site in April together with activists from 'Stop the Reception Crisis' to denounce the lack of sheltered places provided by the Federal Government. No housing solution for them was proposed, and as a result, activists of the collective and residents of the squat set up a new tent camp on Place Sainte-Croix, near Flagey in Ixelles on Friday last week.

Credit: Kristof van Accom

"The authorities are trying at all costs to hide the consequences of their contempt for the law, their duties and human dignity," said asylum seeker Amin, who represents the group. "The camp here in Ixelles opposes this and makes visible what the state wants to make invisible."

The Brussels Region together with homeless organisation Bruss'help has since organised shelter for these people, despite the fact it being the Federal Government's responsibility, and the tent camp has been dismantled.

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