Over half of Belgians (56%) support the decision made by State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor to stop giving shelter to single men who applied for asylum, despite it contradicting Belgian and international law.
De Moor announced in August that Belgium would temporarily stop providing single male asylum seekers with shelter in the Fedasil network to reserve all available spaces for families with children.
The measure has been widely criticised as "completely inhumane" by those working in the field. It was also reversed by the Council of State, but 56% of Belgians polled thought it was nevertheless a good decision, according to an Ipsos survey on a representative sample of 2,600 Belgian adults.
"These results highlight people's view of single men who, apart from being less 'vulnerable', are seen as a greater threat," Antoine Roblain, professor of the social psychology of migration (ULB), told Le Soir.
Lack of nuance
Still, Roblain and VUB professor of political science, Ilke Adam, pointed out that De Moor's measure was rejected by the Council of State and that if the survey's question had been "Did Nicole de Moor do the right thing by flouting the rule of law?" the answers would probably have been very different.
Additionally, UCLouvain professor of migration law and human rights, Sylvie Sareola, argued that "vulnerabilities are pitted against each other" because of failing policies.
"Many people have difficulty finding a flat or a house and/or are waiting for social housing. So when we ask them whether it is right to leave single men seeking asylum outside, I am not shocked that so many say yes," she said. "There is a real responsibility on the part of a section of the political world that suggests that there is currently a crisis of influx rather than reception."
She added that "saying 'there are a lot of people to take in, but we will manage' rather than 'we cannot take in everyone' would be more courageous and would provoke a different reaction from the public; one that would be more in line with the principles of the EU's Charter of Fundamental Rights."
When asked if the rules for asylum seekers should be tightened, 71% of respondents said yes – which VUB professor Ilke Adam called "worrying", at a time when "Belgium is increasingly being condemned for its management of migration."
However, she added that the question put to the respondents could have been more nuanced. "'Tougher rules' means everything and nothing. Are we talking about reception, criteria for access to asylum, or maybe even something else?"
In general, however, the survey made it clear that Belgium is still fairly polarised on the issue of migration and that Flanders, particularly, prefers a firmer stance: 78% of Flemish respondents would like to see the rules tightened, compared to 62% in Wallonia and 59% in Brussels. For Roblain, this is because political parties such as far-right Vlaams Belang and right-wing N-VA are "increasingly politicising the migration issue."
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The results also showed that the majority of Brussels residents (57%) find that every municipality in Belgium should take in a certain number of asylum seekers to solve the reception crisis, as organisations in the field have been advocating for months. Despite the fact that the legal framework for this already exists, however, it is not being applied.
Only 40% of respondents in Wallonia and 44% in Flanders supported this approach. "It is impossible to be a Brussels citizen and not see the reception crisis," said Adam, adding that this could explain their desire to see a contribution from every municipality in the country.
"There is a distribution plan that is still on standby," said Roblain. "We need to avoid a 'massification' of migration that scares people and move towards smaller structures spread out over the territory that have already shown positive results."