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The eternal asylum crisis in Belgium – POLITICO

Belgium is once again facing criticism over its attitude towards migrants – as it moves to leave some asylum seekers out in the cold.

The country’s highest administrative court last week ended a controversial federal government policy of denying asylum to single male asylum seekers.

The government, however, plans to move forward anyway, according to Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor, who led policy last month to tackle the growing number of asylum seekers overwhelming the network and prevent families and children to end up on the streets.

“It is not because the Council of State says so that it would suddenly be possible to give places to these people. There are no additional places,” De Moor said in a statement sent to POLITICO. “This is and remains a temporary measure that I have taken to ensure that there are enough places for families and children.”

De Moor and Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo are under pressure from the opposition on immigration. The two largest parties in the northern Flanders region – the far-right Vlaams Belang and the Flemish nationalists N-VA – argue that the Belgian government should focus more on returning migrants who have not been granted asylum in Belgium.

Since its introduction in August, the politics was lambasted by lawyers, politicians and organizations, who argued that it violated the rights of asylum seekers, EU law and that its implementation would disperse migrants onto the streets.

The Council of State ruled that this policy “does not respect the right to reception” determined by the Belgian Reception law of 2007, which guarantees material assistance – including accommodation – to all applicants for asylum during the asylum procedure. The law does not allow parties to deprive a category of asylum seekers – in this case single men – of the right to reception, according to the council’s decision.

De Moor’s decision to ignore the court ruling is now also raising alarms among refugee organizations.

Tine Claus, director of Refugee Work Vlaanderen (Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen), one of eight organizations that appealed to the Council of State, said the “inhumane” policy would cause significant physical and mental trauma to asylum seekers in Belgium, making their integration more difficult. .

“What we fear for the winter is that, for the third year in a row, people will sleep on the streets again,” adds Joost Depotter, policy and support coordinator at Refugee Work Flanders.

“This is something extremely egregious in terms of the lack of respect for the rule of law,” Catherine Woollard, director of the European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), told POLITICO. “What we have seen is an illegal policy; the court does its job and rules against this policy; and then the government says it will continue this illegal policy.

De Moor’s divisive policy is not the first time that Belgium has been put under scrutiny for the way it handles a migratory influx. The country’s reception agency, Fedasil, has been condemned more than 8,000 times nationally for failing to provide accommodation to asylum seekers, while the European Court of Human Rights has also issued rulings hundreds of interim measures against Belgium, asking it to provide accommodation and aid. to asylum seekers.

The eternal asylum crisis in Belgium – POLITICO
Nicole De Moor’s divisive policy is not the first time that Belgium has been put under surveillance for its way of managing a migratory influx | Arthur Gekiere/Belga/AFP via Getty Images

Woollard of ECRE — a network of 117 organizations in 40 European countries — said Belgium’s problem is a “self-inflicted crisis at the point of reception” that stems from a “deliberate failure to invest in facilities “adequate reception facilities”.

Since the start of the reception crisis two years ago, Belgium has faced a growing housing shortage, which particularly affects unaccompanied men. De Moor’s policy is only the official confirmation of a trend where more and more single men are “systematically refused access to the foster network and have to register on a waiting list ”, according to a report from Refugee Work Flanders.

For De Moor, the Fedasil network is being put to the test by the massive arrival of asylum seekers in Belgium, a problem which requires reform at European level. Belgium is working to advance work on the EU migration pact when it takes over the presidency of the EU Council early next year.

But others argue that Belgium does not lack the capacity to tackle the problem, but simply the political will.

“(During) the last two years we saw the lack of political will to resolve this crisis and the solution was easy,” said Claus, who believes that implementing a distribution plan between municipalities Belgian authorities would allow all asylum seekers to find shelter. “We do not understand why the federal government was not prepared to take legal measures, explicitly provided for by law, for these types of situations.”

For activists, De Moor’s policy is not about bringing real change at all; rather, it is about sending a message, by describing Belgium as an unwelcoming country for asylum seekers and dissuading them from coming there.

But these types of policies are based on “the mistaken belief that these policies prevent the arrival of refugees,” Woollard said.

“Creating these restrictive policies, like refusing access to reception, does not prevent people from arriving… But it creates this perpetual crisis. »

Barbara Moens contributed reporting.