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Coronavirus: Belgium restarts services for asylum seekers

Credit: © Belga

Belgium’s Immigration Department has started registering asylum seekers again, after its temporary closure because of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) received a lot of negative reactions.

The Department closed its application centre for asylum seekers in the Klein Kasteeltje, in Brussels, to prevent large groups of people from coming into close contact, and possibly infecting each other, three weeks ago.

The federal government received a lot of criticism for the decision, based on people’s right to asylum and because those people were left on the streets. In the meantime, the Department has an online form that asylum seekers can use to make an appointment, in order to be able to register in the office in Brussels.

Since Friday, they received 158 applications for an appointment. “The first twenty appointments took place yesterday,” said Geert Devulder, spokesperson of the Immigration Department, to De Morgen. “It concerns more than twenty people, depending on the number of family members,” he added. Priority is given to families and vulnerable people.

The offices have been equipped with plexiglass, and only three of the nine counters are open to comply with the social distancing measures.

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After registration, the Immigration Department must also conduct interviews with the asylum seekers about their flight path and flight motives. However, the offices where those interviews are conducted still have to be adapted to the new measures.

For the time being, the Commissariat General, which decides on whether an asylum seeker is entitled to protection, no longer accepts new cases. “We are concentrating on the files that have to be completed, and we still have to make some organisational adjustments, like the Immigration Department,” said Commissioner-General Dirk Van den Bulck to De Morgen.

It is unclear how many people, who would otherwise have been entitled to reception, are staying on the streets due to these delays.

“The health risks are too great, we have to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” said MP Wouter De Vriendt to Maggie De Block, who is not only Federal Minister for Public Health, but also for Asylum and Migration, in parliament. “Homeless people, asylum seekers, sans-papiers or others must be temporarily housed in vacant holiday parks, sports halls or Defence infrastructure as soon as possible, in the interests of everyone,” he added.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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