The Council of State has struck down an instruction introduced at the end of November by former migration minister Theo Francken limiting the number of asylum applications handled by the Office for Foreigners to 50 a day. The case was brought by a number of NGOs, including Doctors without Borders and the refugee charity Vluchtenlingenwerk Vlaanderen. The Council of State exists to scrutinise decisions of government at every level, from municipal to federal.
The limit was set by Francken to ease the work of the Office for Foreigners, which is the first port of call for anyone seeking asylum in Belgium. However Office staff themselves said at the time that they were capable of handling more cases than the limit allowed.
Francken also gave staff the instruction to give priority to cases involving children, families, the elderly and the sick. The effect of the two measures taken together meant single men were left with little chance of having their application heard.
Earlier this month, Francken left his post when his party, Flemish nationalists N-VA, quit the government. His replacement, Maggie De Block, did not immediately lift the limit on applications. The Council of State has now taken that decision for her.
“It has been ruled that, on its face, this decision makes it extremely difficult for a person to exercise what is a fundamental right – the access to the procedure to recognise the status of refugee and afford the related protections to certain foreigners who wish to lodge a request for international protection,” the Council said in a statement. In other words, the limit set by Francken effectively robbed certain categories of person of the right to petition for asylum at all.
The office of minister De Block (photo) has yet to react to the Council of State’s ruling. However they will have no option but to comply with the decision within the briefest of delays.