Belgian newspapers reported on Monday that in 2020 alone, the federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers (Fedasil), has received a thousand convictions for failure to provide material reception conditions to asylum seekers.

In order to access their basic rights, more than 1000 applicants seeking protection had to resort to legal action. Only after obtaining a conviction from the court they were able to access the reception system. The French-speaking labour court in Brussels informs that they have dealt with an “explosion” of unilateral requests against Fedasil, a procedure of extreme urgency that requires a response within a short time-frame. The Belgian reception agency has never lodged an appeal against a court decision that grants reception to first time applicants.

Many of these convictions are related to the implementation of an online registration system. Introduced in April 2020, as a response to the COVID-19 outbreak. All applicants for international protection that want to register an application for international protection are obliged to make an appointment by using an online form (available only in Dutch or French).

The completion of the online appointment form does not guarantee swift access to the procedure, often taking weeks, and does not lead to access to the reception system. As the asylum authorities do not consider a person as an applicant for international protection until the actual appointment with registration takes place. Awaiting registration those persons, including families with children, have to look for their own accommodation, and are often left destitute.

Despite the numerous court rulings in individual cases, the measures are still in place. A few weeks ago civil society organisations therefore initiated a collective legal proceeding against the Belgian State. By refusing such access the Belgian state violates its own national law (the Reception Act) as well the EU Reception Directive, that provides that member states shall ensure that material reception conditions are available to applicants when they make their application for international protection. These material reception conditions should provide an adequate standard of living for applicants, which guarantees their subsistence and protects their physical and mental health. The organisations ask the state to provide material assistance from the day the online form has been submitted.

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Photo: (cc) Miguel Discart, January 2018

This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.