Belgium condemned by court over failure to receive asylum seekers
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Belgium condemned by court over failure to receive asylum seekers

Credit: Belga

The Brussels Court of First Instance has condemned the Belgian state for not directly offering reception to asylum seekers who had electronically informed the Aliens Office (AO) that they were seeking international protection, said Tuesday a statement signed by various organisations.

Due to the Covid-19 health measures, people in need of international protection in Belgium have had to register online since April and then wait for the AO to fix an appointment.

In between, they were not received, but all these people are entitled to it, the associations said.

European law and the Belgian law on reception stipulate that asylum seekers are entitled to reception as soon as they present their application for international protection.

Fedasil (the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers) has been condemned several times by the Labour Court in recent months and forced, under penalty of fines, to immediately receive people waiting for an appointment at the office.

In practice, the waiting period for this appointment varies from a few days to weeks or even months. Applicants find themselves on the streets, in total precariousness and in defiance of public health rules.

The various associations have questioned former Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Maggie De Block, Fedasil and the AO on numerous occasions, without ever receiving a response. They have put the State on notice to find accommodation and socio-legal support solutions.

An appeal against the decision is still possible but it will not have any suspensive effect: the judgment is provisionally enforceable.

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The existing system actually allows the authorities to limit the number of asylum applications submitted per day – and therefore to introduce implicit quotas -, depending on the capacity of AO staff and Fedasil, the communiqué states.

“The putting under pressure of the reception network is the consequence of the poor management of the Secretariat for Asylum and Migration. We demand that the State put an immediate end to this system, whose illegality has been recognised,” they said, “and that solutions be immediately offered to asylum seekers who introduce the online form. Belgium must pursue a reception policy that respects European law and Belgian law”.

The judge now obliges the Belgian State to take the necessary measures to ensure that asylum seekers are received as soon as they register online. The State will have 30 days to do so, after which a penalty of 2,500 euros will apply for each day of delay, with a maximum of 100,000 euros.

“We are going to study this decision and see how it can be followed up,” reacted Sieghild Lacoere, spokesperson at the State Secretariat for Asylum and Migration.

The organisations that appealed were Ciré (Coordination and Initiatives for Refugees and Foreigners), ADDE (Association for Rights of Foreigners), Avocats.be, CAW Brussel, the League of Human Rights, NANSEN, ORBIT vzw, the Citizens’ Platform for the Support of Refugees, the Youth Law Service of Brussels and Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen.

The Brussels Times