Fedasil, the federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers in Belgium, announced on April 24 that it would investigate the Jalhay center for asylum seekers, near Liège. There have been reports of dilapidated premises, threats, and neglect of health care.
The center for asylum seekers in Jalhay, near Liège in Belgium, is in a state of turmoil. Fedasil has launched an internal investigation after accusations of negligence, reports the Migrations Libres collective.
"A close follow-up will be carried out and appropriate measures will be taken to ensure that accommodation standards are met," the agency said in a statement released Saturday, April 24.
In a report published on the organization's website on April 18, the testimonies of residents and former supervisors are harrowing. According to Migrations Libres, the living conditions of the 250 or so asylum seekers living there significantly deteriorated after the Red Cross left in October and the site was taken over by a private company, Svasta.
Since 2015 in Belgium, the state has been able to hire private companies to manage asylum-seeker centers. Six out of 81 centers across the country have now been privatized.
'The business mindset'
The center in Jalhay, located in the Spa d'Or campsite, is at the heart of recent criticism. After Svasta took control in October, a "business mindset" has taken precedence over the Red Cross's focus on humanitarian action, a member of Migrations Libres, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells InfoMigrants. "Svasta is a hotel chain, its action is not selfless," it is all about profit, the activist continues.
One of the first measures taken by the private company was to reduce the number of social workers: From 30 under the Red Cross, the number went down to 12 under Svasta.
The food rations have also been reduced. Under the Red Cross, asylum seekers were given €5.10 per day per person for food, but, with the arrival of Svasta, "the amount has been lowered arbitrarily," reports the Migrations Libres website.
The collective also denounces the lack of access to health care. "There is only one doctor who comes twice a week, as opposed to one every day at the time of the Red Cross," says Migrations Libres. As a result, in the absence of medical staff, the center's workers advise the residents to "use grandmother's remedies" to treat themselves.
In addition, "some residents have had their hospital procedure cancelled because the center did not fill out the paperwork for Fedasil," reports the collective, relaying accounts from people personally affected.
Threats against asylum seekers
The witness accounts received by Migrations Libres describe the dilapidated state of the basic huts in which the asylum seekers are housed. A dozen of them, which had been until then reserved for storing Red Cross material, were opened by Svasta in October to house Afghan nationals. However, these premises are "eaten away by humidity" and have no sanitary facilities, no water connection and even less heating.
The organization also refers to threats made by the staff against the residents. The director of the center allegedly threatened asylum seekers who complained about their living conditions that they would be transferred to a "worse" center but also that she would "ruin their asylum application process". These were the serious accusations that finally prompted Fedasil to react.
However, public figures have been sounding the alarm in recent months. The mayor of the municipality alerted the police in December after receiving testimonies "of the same kind as those received by the collective". "We have to speak now of a climate of terror," he explained to the Belgian press.
"Today, things are starting to change because the media has picked up on the story," notes Migrations Libres. "We are going to wait to see the results of the investigation, but why continue to privatize a sector that is essentially non-commercial? Why are negotiations between these private operators and Fedasil so opaque?".
The organization also points out that the owner of Svasta is Dominique Nédée, a far-right candidate in the 2007 federal elections. The founder of Nédée's party, Jean-Marie Dedecker, was the author of a "racist, xenophobic and islamophobic essay on migration in which he advocated for multiple reductions in the fundamental rights of migrants in Belgium," Migrations Libres says.