A protest was organized in Brussels on Monday to occupy a public building and demand an emergency solution for some 50 asylum seekers who are currently lacking accommodation.
The Belgian authorities are required by law to provide accommodation to those seeking asylum. However, on Monday, March 13, it seemed at least 50 asylum seekers were still lacking that provision. A protest was organized to occupy a public building and demand an emergency solution, reported the German news agency dpa. It is just the latest in a long-running accommodation crisis facing asylum seekers in Belgium.
Pictures taken by the reporter Hatim Kaghat on Monday showed some of the homeless asylum seekers appearing to bed down on thin blankets on the cold hard entrance floors of the public building they decided to occupy, in order to protest their situation.
Other migrants appeared to be showing official documents to reporters, perhaps confirmation of their application for asylum. This latest group of asylum seekers were left without a place to sleep, noted dpa, after a series of evictions in Brussels first closed down a squat and then the around 60 tents that had sprung up along the canal in central Brussels, not far from the Belgian asylum offices Fedasil, located in the Petit Chateau building on the canal.
Last week, the Belgian authorities carried out the evictions and most of those who had been camping along the canal were offered some form of accommodation, state the authorities. On March 9, the French news agency Agence France Presse AFP reported that the Belgian authorities were, in conjunction with the evictions, also hoping to accelerate their returns program for anyone who had their asylum claim rejected.
The Belgian government wants to put in place a new law that will accelerate the return to their country of origin, all those who have their asylum claims rejected. This is key to resolving the crisis in reception, the authorities told AFP.
Currently, there are about 34,000 accommodation places in Belgium and the system is full to overflowing, reported AFP. At least 2,400 asylum seekers cannot take up the place that, under the law they have the right to, because the system is so full.
MSF criticizes the situation
The medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF), which has operated in Belgium since 2017, said that the Belgian authorities had been consistently under-evaluating the need for asylum accommodation, and criticized them for the situation which left hundreds sleeping on the streets or in flimsy tents. In this tweet from March 7, MSF notes that it had received no information from the authorities about where those evicted would be rehoused.
Prior to the evictions, MSF said it had had to step up its operations along the canal where hundreds of migrants had pitched a temporary home. At the beginning of March, the organization said it was providing medical care for approximately 200 people and also installing "basic sanitary facilities."
Some migrants started fires on the pavements to keep warm. According to the Belgian news site The Bulletin.be, police officers ordered them to put out the fires, saying according to the asylum seekers: “You are here on the territory of Molenbeek and this cannot be done here.”
Because of its failure to provide all asylum seekers with adquate accommodation, the authorities have been repeatedly fined. According to The Bulletin, at the beginning of March, those penalty payments had amounted to at least €275 million and was said to be increasing by €10,000 each day through non-payment of the existing fines.
The Belgian Asylum and Migration Minister Nicole De Moor from the CD & V (Flemish Christian Democrats) party though said she opposed the charges, calling the amounts "theoretical" according to The Bulletin, because "claimants will need to go through the courts to collect payment."
According to the Bulletin, Fedasil has been convicted "5,991 times in court for the lack of reception with another 1,132 judgements against the Belgian state from the ECHR [European Court of Human Rights]."
The newspaper said that objects belonging to Fedasil had been seized and already sold through a public auction. A bailiff is also reported to have visited De Moor’s office, according to the paper, "but took nothing for now. An appeal is still pending," concluded The Bulletin.