A fire that was intentionally lit inside a building set to become a housing centre for asylum seekers was an act of “political terror,” Flemish Interior Minister Bart Somers said.
In a press conference, Somers announced that the Flemish government would deploy a special official to the town of Bilzen in response to a fire that raged through an unoccupied building meant to become a reception centre for asylum seekers.
The blaze broke out in the building on the night of Sunday to Monday, and as firefighters fought the flames, local police confirmed it as an act of arson, VRT reports.
News that the building would be transformed into reception centre sparked protests from local residents, with around a hundred demonstrators staging a protest in front of the building at the end of October.
“There is no excuse for criminal acts and for the use of violence,” Somers said at a conference on Wenesday, describing the arson attack as an act of “political terror.”
Somers also denounced several responses on social media which showed users celebrating the arson attack by referring to it as a “good start,” with some commenting that it would have been better to “wait until the building was inhabited.”
“What is the next step that we are going to see? Are we going to start a fire in an asylum centre where people are present, where children are already in?” Somers asked, echoing comments by Bilzen’s mayor who referred to the reactions on social media as “despicable.”
Somers said that official would act as a liaison between Flemish and federal governments and the authorities in Bilzen, where they would be posted for around a year in order to assist local authorities with the logistics of setting up the reception centre and particularly support communication campaigns aimed at local communities.
In the aftermath of the blaze, De Standaard reported that Fedasil, the federal agency which manages requests for international protection, requested additional protection for other reception centres in Belgium, including for a former prison ship turned housing centre in Ghent, which is preparing to receive around 250 asylum seekers from December.
An investigation was launched after police confirmed that the fire had intentionally been set.