The number of asylum applications to Belgium processed by federal authorities fell 11% in September, while in neighbouring countries applications are on the rise, Het Laatste Nieuws reports.
According to figures from the office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRS), 3,254 people applied for international protection in Belgium in September – down 11.2% from August (3,666).
This is the first time in four years that September has seen a decrease and is in sharp contrast with neighbouring countries: the Netherlands saw a 9.9% increase in applications (from 4,244 to 4,665); Germany saw a slight increase from 27,738 to 27,889 applications (+0.5%).
Belgium's State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor announced in August that Belgium would no longer grant reception for single men seeking asylum. The move faced fierce criticism from human rights groups and lawyers and the European Commission summoned Belgian authorities to provide official explanations for the decision.
On 13 September, the decision was officially overruled by the Council of State but in practice De Moor’s policy remains in force. She maintains that Belgium could not deal with the level of applications from single men.
A political contest
The drop in applications might be portrayed as a victory for De Moor in her campaign to reduce total applications, but she argues it is too early to draw conclusions. The inflow of asylum seekers still remains high in Belgium with over 3,000 applications per month. This reflects high levels across the EU.
More than 25,000 have already applied for asylum in Belgium this year. Last year broke records with a total of 36,871 requesting international protection in the country.
In a comment to Het Laatste Nieuws, Johan Wets, professor of migration policy at KU Louvain, said that the drop in applicant numbers is unlikely to be a direct response to De Moor's decision to target applications from single male applicants. “The announcement had a purely political and electoral purpose. The policy has remained more or less the same.”
Wets believes the drop is better explained by transportation problems, weather conditions, and seasonal factors.
- Brussels and Wallonia take in far more asylum seekers than Flanders
- Majority of Belgians support State Secretary De Moor's migration policy
Shutting out single male applicants may have led to other unintended consequences. Thomas Willekens from the Refugee Council of Flanders points to a spike in unattended minors applying for asylum, some as young as seven years old. The number of families also remains high.
There are concerns that spillover from the Israel-Gaza conflict could see a surge in applications from Palestinians. These people are already the fourth-most represented group among Belgium’s asylum applicants. Applications from Palestinians are currently on pause pending a court ruling, but with Gaza under heavy Israeli bombardment, Federal authorities may end up approving more applications from this region.
Syrians and Afghans, whose countries are still in a state of war, remain the most represented asylum seekers in Belgium. But a new trend, that of Turkish applicants is causing some concern. Turkey is recognised as a safe country but experts fear that a spillover from the war in Syria is encouraging some to leave for Belgium.