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Asylum crisis in Belgium: a symptom of the failure of European migration policies?


Coming from Afghanistan, Africa, the Middle East, hundreds of people come every morning to knock on the door of the refugee office in Brussels, to ask for asylum in Belgium.

Overwhelmed, the Fedasil registration center, which processes asylum applications, can no longer cope. Humanitarian organizations are sounding the alarm.

“You see, the people sleeping here are often people who tried to get in yesterday and the day before yesterday, but couldn’t,” says Helene Asselman, coordinator of Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen. “They have to come back tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. In the meantime, they have no rights in Belgium, they have no status, they are not legal residents. Even people who have already applied do not have access to shelters. Especially single men.”

“We are in a difficult psychological state,” said Muhammad Mahani, a Palestinian asylum seeker. “We have been in Belgium for four months and they haven’t given us housing or a SIM card. We live in this freezing cold. We immigrated to build our future. But what we have seen in our country, we let’s see here now.”

Worrying health situation

A few meters from the asylum application center, the Médecins Sans Frontières association has set up mobile clinics, the same ones it uses in war zones.

“There is a health situation that is quite worrying,” says David Vogel, Advocacy Officer of Médecins Sans Frontières. “There is a scabies epidemic which is difficult to control in Brussels since people, without housing, return to their squats in the evening, or to the streets. We also had 17 suspected cases of diphtheria, three of which were confirmed by laboratories. There is a very significant deterioration in the mental health of this public. With prolonged exposure to the street, in addition to difficult migratory journeys, punctuated by violence and deprivation. And so, we really see a deterioration in this area, which is also quite worrying.”

At mealtimes, queues form around the so-called Humanitarian Hub, a focal point for aid run by NGOs and citizen collectives, in another part of town. The situation continues to worsen, says one of the coordinators.

“We provide an average of 1,000 to 1,200 meals a day, compared to around 800 people a year ago”, indicates Clothilde Bodson, operational coordinator at the Brussels Humanitarian Hub.

“We offer specialized services such as medical check-ups, psychological follow-ups, clothing distribution, etc. There are different responses from civil society and humanitarian actors, but this is not enough. We are actually responding to needs because of state deficiencies, and it just doesn’t work.”

Hundreds of people forced to sleep outside

Every evening, the humanitarians multiply the rounds through the city to come to the aid of the hundreds of people forced to sleep outside. The crisis is such that even Ukrainian refugees, who have a special status in Belgium as elsewhere in Europe, are more and more numerous to be left behind.

Like these women, whom we meet at the Gare du Midi, in the heart of Brussels.

“I have to travel between different places,” says Liubov Skvorets, a Ukrainian refugee. “In order to spend nights in temporary shelters. But the situation in these shelters is such that you can only spend the night there. And then you just have to take your things and move on to another place “

“When I received my registration, says Tetiana Makukha, also recently arrived from Ukraine. Although I showed them documents proving that I have cancer, they put me up for one night in a hostel downtown. One night only. I stayed here at the station for a whole week.”

“The figure given to us by the Red Cross is that on average, every day, there are a hundred Ukrainians who arrive here at the Gare du Midi,” says Magali Pratte of Samusocial Brussels. “And out of 100 people, there are around 40 or 50 who really need housing, who don’t have a solution on their own. And of these 40 people, there are 20 very vulnerable people, with children or pregnant women, disabled people or sick people. But who is told now that there is no more accommodation. And so people keep leaving and coming back, leaving, coming back. That’s how it is these days.”

Applicants for international protection

Humanitarians continue their rounds, this time among applicants for international protection. Like here, at the foot of one of the accommodation centers of the agency in charge of asylum seekers. Belgian Red Cross teams are also on the ground.

“We have set up additional rounds, because there are more needs,” explains Morgane Senden from the Belgian Red Cross. “We see that people really need more help than we can give them. Because we don’t bring much, just coffee, tea and some food”

Many sleep on mattresses on the floor, without any protection. Their makeshift tents are regularly taken down by the police and scattered groups.

Here, as in the Netherlands, or in France and in southern Europe, asylum seekers are also paying the price for a failing European migration policy. Rejected by some EU states, they suffer in others from dysfunctional management of asylum applications.

The Belgian State condemned

In desperation, groups of migrants occupied empty buildings. A squat in a huge building that went from about 200 people to over 600 in the space of a few days.

Marie Doutrepont represents several of the occupants of the squat, threatened with eviction, within a collective of lawyers who are tirelessly mobilizing for international protection.

“For a year, Fedasil and therefore through Fedasil, the Belgian State, has been condemned 7,000 times by the labor court”, she says. “Who said that we had to respect the law and accommodate these people, with judgments that Fedasil did not comply with, or with deadlines such that it no longer makes sense. The lawyers went to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which has just ordered interim measures and confirmed it by saying that the law must be respected and that these people must be released. shelter, and that not to do so is to subject them to inhuman and degrading treatment. Displacement of the State!”

Nasrullah was a soldier in Afghanistan. He worked at Bagram prison. Some members of the new Taliban government were detained there before they took power. His life is now in danger. Just like that of Jean de Dieu, a pastor in Burundi and a human rights activist.

We find them both later, alongside other companions in misfortune, who have come to take part in the demonstration organized by their lawyers, not far from the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration.

“What’s the point of putting on our lawyers’ gowns,” says lawyer Manon Libert. “To work on our files, to go to court, to win proceedings and to facilitate judgments if the State then tramples on this, and deliberately leaves women, children and men in the street! We therefore ask today Belgium to fulfill its international obligations!”

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

Citing a lack of resources, the government also points to the lack of European solidarity. Arguments that the demonstrators consider untenable, given the urgency.

euronews Gt

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