Asylum crisis in Belgium: a sign of a failed European migration policy?

Hundreds of people from Afghanistan, Africa or the Middle East knock on the door of the refugee office in Brussels every day to get asylum in Belgium. Fedasil’s registration center, which has the authority to handle requests, can no longer cope. Humanitarian organizations are sounding the alarm.

“People sleeping here [ndlr : devant l’office des réfugiés] Yesterday or the day before, they tried to get in often, but they couldn’t” Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen coordinator Helene Asselman explains. “They should return tomorrow or the day after.” he continues. “Meanwhile in Belgium they have no rights, no status, they are not legal residents; there are no reception centers for people who apply, anyway single men.” he notes.

Hundreds of people on the street

“We are seeing more and more minors, fifteen-year-olds or families with four young children.” he says. “We are trying to find an immediate solution for them, but I’m afraid we won’t be able to find anything for them in the next few days.” he grumbles.

Everyone we met among the hundreds of people sleeping on the streets of the European capital has already tried their luck several times. They are exhausted.

“We are in a difficult psychological situation, we have been in Belgium for four months and they don’t give us a place to live or a SIM card, we live in this freezing cold.” Palestinian asylum seeker Muhammad Mahani testifies. “We moved to build our future; what we saw in our country, we still see here” she notes bitterly.

“Disturbing health condition”

A few meters from the asylum registration center, Doctors Without Borders has set up mobile clinics that it uses in war zones. It’s the only way men care.

“It’s been three and a half months since I arrived and applied for asylum, but I still don’t have a place to live.” Afghan asylum seeker Wali Khan Ebrahimi says. “We also have medical problems, we don’t have documents, we can’t work, we don’t have money and there are many problems.” adds.

“There is a rather worrying health situation, we are seeing an outbreak of scabies in Brussels which is difficult to control because people are returning to squatting in the evening or on the street because they have no place to live.” MSF Belgium Advocacy Officer David Vogel explains.

“We also had 17 suspected cases of diphtheria, three of which were laboratory-confirmed, and we are seeing a very significant deterioration in the mental health of this population, with an already difficult migration journey that is long on the street, punctuated by violence and deprivation. ,” adds.

“State deficits”

At mealtimes, queues form around the Brussels Humanitarian Center, which is run by associations and civic groups. The situation continues to deteriorate, one of the coordinators emphasizes.

“If there were about 800 of us a year ago, now we eat an average of 1,000-1,200 meals a day” says Clothilde Bodson, the center’s operations coordinator. “We provide medical consultation, psychological monitoring, clothing distribution, etc. We offer specialized services such as There are different reactions from civil society and humanitarian actors, but this is not enough.” he notes.

“There, we’re meeting needs with state deficits, and the situation isn’t working.”

Ukrainian refugees suffer the same fate

Every evening, the troops increase their raids to help hundreds of people who are forced to sleep outside. The crisis is such that even in Belgium, as elsewhere in Europe, the number of Ukrainian refugees with special status is increasing.

This is the case of the two women we met at the Gare du Midi in central Brussels. “I have to go from place to place to sleep in temporary shelters, and the situation in these places is such that you can only spend one night there.” says Ukrainian refugee Liubov Skvorets. “But then you have to take your things and look for another place.” he adds.

On her side, Ukrainian refugee Tetiana Mukkha adds: “When I registered, even though I showed the documents confirming that I am a cancer patient, they gave me shelter in the center for only one night. I have been sleeping in this station for a week.” he says.

“The figure we got from the Red Cross is that on average there are still about a hundred Ukrainians coming to Gare du Midi every day.” Magali Pratte of Samusocial Brussels explains. “Out of 100 people, there are 40-50 people who really need to live and cannot find their own solution” it shows. “Of these 40, 20 are very vulnerable with children, pregnant women, disabled or sick people, but today it is said that there is no more accommodation for them and people are leaving, coming back, leaving, coming back. ,” he grumbles.

The two Ukrainians will be able to sleep in one of the emergency centers where the Samusocial team will take them that night. But the next day they will have to find another solution.

“They need more help than we can give them.”

The team continues its tour of applicants for international protection, such as around one of the accommodation centers run by Fedasil, the agency responsible for receiving asylum seekers. Belgian Red Cross teams are also on the ground.

“We created more gangs because there was more need, but we find that people really need more help than we can give them.” Morgane Senden of the Red Cross notes. “We don’t bring much, just a coffee, tea, some food” she sighs.

Many sleep unprotected on mattresses on the floor. Temporary tents are regularly dismantled by the police and groups are dispersed.

An Afghan asylum seeker tells us that many have been sleeping for several months, 65 days. “The police came and said that we cannot sleep there, no one can help us.” exasperated, he turns on another Afghan asylum seeker.

The failure of Europe’s migration policy

As in the Netherlands, asylum seekers in Belgium, France or southern Europe are also paying the price for a failed European migration policy. In some states of the Union, they have returned, while in others they suffer from ineffective management of asylum applications.

In desperation, groups of migrants have occupied empty buildings like the one we visited in the center of Brussels. This massive squat went from about 200 people to over 600 people in just a few days.

Marie Doutrepont, as part of a collective of lawyers who tirelessly mobilizes for international protection, defends several squatters who are threatened with eviction.

“In one year, Fedasil – and therefore the Belgian State through Fedasil – was convicted 7,000 times by the labor court and told to respect the law and provide these people with periodic fines. This has not been done by Fadasil or with such delay doesn’t make sense” attacks the lawyer.

“The lawyers went all the way to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which ordered interim measures and confirmed that the law must be respected and that these people must be accommodated.” he continues. “Failure to do so exposes them to inhuman and degrading treatment, and even this still does not move the Belgian state!” he is angry.

“We are human!”

Everyone we met in the squat had been registered as an asylum seeker weeks or even months before.

“When new arrivals arrive, we record their names and registration numbers” Jean de Dieu Hitimana, an asylum seeker from Burundi, explains to Marie Doutrepont. “After the first interview, you don’t have a place to live, and sometimes people who are recognized as refugees don’t have a place to live.” the lawyer explains.

“Here we don’t have enough food, we don’t have a shower and we’re cold” It describes John of God. Next to him is Nasrullah Hallit, an Afghan asylum seeker who lives in that building. “We are human beings, we are here because we are refugees, nothing else!” throws “Because our lives in our countries are full of risks” he assures.

Nasrullah was a soldier in Bagram prison in Afghanistan. Some members of the new Taliban government were under his control before coming to power. A price has been put on his head, just like that of Jean de Dieu, a priest and human rights defender in Burundi.

The European Court of Human Rights condemned the Belgian State

We later find them with other hapless fellows who have come to participate in a demonstration organized by their lawyers near the Secretariat of State for Asylum and Migration.

“Since the European Court of Human Rights has condemned the Belgian State and it is still useless, we invite you to a small symbolic action!” he insists, addressing the several dozen people gathered.

Lawyer Manon Liebert also speaks. “If the state stepped on this and released women, children, and men to the street voluntarily, what is the point of dressing up our lawyers, preparing our cases, going to court, winning the court process and making the trials easier? condemns before starting work: “Today we ask Belgium to fulfill its international obligations!”

The State Secretariat for Asylum and Migration, as well as the agency responsible for receiving refugees, declined our interview requests.

Opposing criticism of the lack of funds, the government also emphasizes the lack of European solidarity. Unchallenged arguments say that the demonstrators are facing an emergency.

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