Asylum seekers occupying Crisis Centre demand national crisis plan

Asylum seekers occupying Crisis Centre demand national crisis plan
A public building squatted by asylum seekers in protest of the reception crisis in 2023. The sign reads 'Accommodation for all'. Credit: Belga / Hatim Kaghat

The 70 asylum seekers occupying the building that will become Belgium's future National Crisis Centre in Brussels will not leave until the national crisis plan is activated and they are guaranteed a permanent place in the Fedasil reception network.

The Brussels-Capital Region, in collaboration with Samusocial and the Refugee Committee, had previously offered emergency shelter places to the asylum seekers in the building, but these were refused, the citizens' movement 'Stop the reception crisis' stated in a press release on Wednesday.

"We are asking to activate the national crisis plan which would allow for this situation to be managed the way it should be: as a crisis,"a spokesperson behind the 'Stop the reception crisis' organisation told The Brussels Times.

"With the crisis plan in effect, the authorities would be able to act swiftly to prevent people from sleeping rough by requisitioning buildings and staff to house the thousands of asylum seekers without shelter," she stressed, adding that the crisis plan is not "a perfect or permanent solution" but would create time and space for municipalities to make a mandatory distribution plan work.

Waiting on the Federal Government

Those occupying the Crisis Centre were advised not to accept the offer by regional authorities for emergency shelter as this would put them at risk of ending up back on the streets before they are received by Fedasil, the civic platform said. "Yesterday, people had to leave the Porte d'Ulysse (a shelter for homeless refugees and migrants) after reaching the 28 days maximum shelter duration for the regional emergency facilities."

By contrast to the emergency regional provision, entering the Fedasil reception network comes with medical and social support as well as the legal provision of shelter. In addition, a place in Fedasil's network includes an 'orange card', granting access to the labour market.

"When we were evicted from the 'squat' in the Rue des Palais in Schaerbeek, we were promised a new home. But yesterday, we were back on the street," asylum seeker Duclo told Belga News Agency.

The requisition of a public building to offer solidarity accommodation to the 70 asylum seekers currently without housing solutions. Credit: Belga/Hatim Kaghat

Late last Sunday, a large-scale police operation saw officers and police vehicles encircle the building. On Monday morning, police denied access to the building, including to lawyers representing the asylum seekers. No food or medicine could be delivered either as police essentially blockaded the building. By Monday afternoon, NGO Serve the City was able to distribute food to those inside.

The 70 asylum seekers are demanding that the national crisis plan be activated, or for a compulsory distribution plan for the municipalities. "The ball is in the court of the Federal Government and State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor, who has still not taken a decision," the press release said.

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For her part, de Moor has stated that she finds it "incomprehensible" that asylum seekers are not taking the offer: "Some people have been on the waiting list for a long time. It's not fair to give these squatters priority at Fedasil now." The minister said that Fedasil invites new people from the waiting list every day. She advised those occupying the Crisis Centre to take the region's offer of emergency shelter in the meantime.

"The only thing we demand is for the government to respect the law and provide shelter for these people, as it is obliged. That is what is just and fair," said the spokesperson. "De Moor is now hiding behind the fact that she cannot just give these 70 people shelter before everyone else on the waiting list. But we are not just asking shelter for those 70 people, we are asking for shelter for everyone."

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