Belgian authorities accused of “systematically” refusing accommodation to asylum seekers

A Belgian court ruled this week that state authorities violated the right to reception of asylum seekers in a “deliberate, coordinated and persistent” manner. Human rights activists have long denounced the fact that many migrants and refugees in Belgium are left homeless because reception facilities are full.

In Belgium, there has long been a dispute over a policy for welcoming asylum seekers that has left some migrants and refugees temporarily homeless. In the capital of the country, Brussels in particular, foreigners who did not have access to reception structures have created camps in parks.

When deciding on access to reception centers, authorities reportedly prioritize asylum seekers deemed vulnerable and asylum seekers who have not applied for asylum in other countries. of the EU – which leaves, in particular, single men on the streets for days at a time. time.

Not enough space for all asylum seekers in reception centers

State authorities say they have been overwhelmed by the number of arrivals, leaving them with no choice but to put some people on the waiting list for accommodation due to the capacity of the facilities. [According to Belgian media reports, there are roughly 30,000 places at asylum seeker centers in the country.]

Refugee and migrant rights activists, however, accuse the authorities – in particular Migration Minister Sammy Mahdi – of fostering conditions in which migrants are left homeless. They believe that the rapid reception of Ukrainian refugees shows that reception capacities can be expanded quickly, if the authorities are willing to do so.

Court: “Deliberate practice of not granting reception”

This week, the Brussels Labor Court found that the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (Fedasil) and the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Sammy Mahdi had deliberately and systematically failed to provide accommodation for asylum seekers, according to various Belgian media published on Tuesday. (June 14).

It appears that Fedasil has “a deliberate, coordinated and persistent practice [of] not granting the right to reception to asylum seekers who are clearly entitled to it,” the court wrote, according to a report by the newspaper. From Standard.

The practice of refusing accommodation “seems desirable, thoughtful and organized” by the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration, Sammy Mahdi (CD&V), considered the court, according to From Standard.

Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Policy Sammy Mahdi, in May 2021 | Photo credit: picture alliance/BELGA PHOTO/Eric Lalmand

The court’s decision was based on hundreds of previous court rulings this year, where asylum seekers had sued authorities for being denied accommodation.

Over 1,400 lawsuits have been filed against Fedasil for failing to grant asylum as required by EU law since the start of 2022; more than 1,000 such lawsuits have been successful — but the home policy has not changed significantly, according to reports from the news site The Brussels Times.

Prosecutors are said to have deliberated on whether the allegations against Fedasil and Mahdi warrant criminal charges.

No will or no way to create more reception capacity?

Migration Minister Mahdi, of the Christian Democratic and Flemish Party, rejected the court’s decision. Reacting to the court ruling, he tweeted: “Nonsense. When places are limited, choices have to be made. Every month, +1,000 asylum seekers in transit [arrive] in Belgium who already have a bed in another EU country. A waiting list [is] necessary.”

From Standard quoted the minister as saying there was “absolutely no intention to deliberately leave people on the streets, as the court seems to be insinuating”.

In a Twitter thread, Thomas Willekens of refugee rights organization Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen criticized Mahdi’s statement, saying his statements were a “distortion of reality”. He tweeted that people who have applied for asylum in other EU countries “also have a right of reception in Belgium, separate from the previous application in another country”.

He also argued that a drastic increase in reception capacities in Belgium in 2015 – after the arrival of a large number of Syrian refugees – and the creation of more than 10,000 reception places for Ukrainian refugees showed that capacities could be increased”, provided [there is the] political will.”

Long wait for many asylum seekers

Asylum seekers in Belgium often face long waiting times for their cases to be heard and authorities have a large backlog of unprocessed claims, leading to even longer waiting times. According to a report by From Standard citing state officials. The newspaper reported that more than 20,000 people were awaiting a response on their asylum applications by the end of May.

Last year, migrants staged a hunger strike in Brussels, calling on the authorities to grant them residence permits |  Photo: Dursun Aydemir/AA/picture-alliance
Last year, migrants staged a hunger strike in Brussels, calling on the authorities to grant them residence permits | Photo: Dursun Aydemir/AA/picture-alliance

Belgium’s asylum policy made headlines around the world last year, as a hunger strike by foreigners in Brussels seeking a legal residence permit spanned month.

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