Belgium’s system for receiving asylum seekers and refugees has been completely saturated for months now, resulting in people sleeping on the streets rather than receiving shelter as they are entitled to, but the situation has come to a boiling point this week.
Since last year, images have been shared of people waiting outside the Brussels Klein Kasteeltje (or Petit-Château) reception centre in dreadful conditions to submit their request for international protection. They are entitled to shelter, but Fedasil does not have the capacity to take them all in, resulting in the body being convicted on multiple occasions.
One Saturday this summer, the centre opened its doors despite normally being closed during weekends, in a desperate attempt to get at least some people in. However, these efforts were in vain.
Concrete solution needed
On Thursday, around 150 refugees camped outside the closed gates of the Brussels' reception centre, with long lines of people sleeping on the floor painting a dire picture of the situation.
The police moved the entrance to the front of the building near the canal following complaints by locals, but this resulted in the centre closing as staff no longer had a separate entrance, which aims to guarantee their safety. Staff were also now made aware of these changes.
"The main reason we couldn't open yesterday was because it just wasn't safe for the staff to carry out the intakes at the entrance, it was pure chaos here. Organisationally, this was just not possible," one Fedasil employee told The Brussels Times.
State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor wrote on Twitter on Thursday evening that what happened at the Klein Kasteeltje "cannot be repeated," adding that the doors must be opened.
While the centre re-opened its doors on Friday (under the supervision of police and only for family reunification and minors) an immediate and concrete solution to the situation continued to be lacking.
This is why Brussels Mayor Philippe Close urgently called on de Moor to find a quick solution, especially as tensions between locals and the asylum seekers at the reception centre are reaching record-high levels.
Tackling the root of the problem
De Moor is already in the midst of discussions with the Public Buildings Administration to speed up plans to move the registration centre from the 'Klein Kasteeltje' to a site in Schaerbeek, away from the city centre, according to reports from De Standaard.
However, the location in itself is not the issue at the heart of Belgium's migrant crisis, a lack of capacity to provide shelter is.
But even with the re-opening of the new centre in Berlaar, more needs to be done, according to Thomas Willekens of Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen (Refugee Work Flanders).
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"It takes more than Berlaar. It takes more than shortening procedure times in the long run. The house is currently on fire and must first be extinguished before you can start rebuilding it. First, give shelter to everyone who is entitled to it," he said on Twitter.