Another reception crisis has emerged in Belgium, with hundreds of asylum seekers denied access to the registration procedure between 19 and 22 October and subsequently left without access to reception.  

Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, a Belgian NGO, active near the “Petit Chateau” arrival centre in Brussels, reported that from 19 to 22 October 2021 between 60 and 150 asylum seekers a day were denied access to the registration procedure and subsequently had no access to reception. As homeless shelters have limited capacity, many of them had to sleep on the street, some in front of the arrival centre. According to Fedasil, the Belgian reception agency, the lack of capacity is the result of a variety of factors. These include the increase of asylum applications, the resettlement of Syrian refugees, the extension of the length of stay in the reception centres, and the repatriation mission from Afghanistan as well as the floods in Belgium during the summer. In addition, the reception centres are obliged to reserve some of their places as isolation sites for possible COVID-19 infections. 

The personnel of the overcrowded arrival centre, who have long been warning about this scenario, conducted a 24 hour strike, to denounce the critical situation at the centre as well as their general working conditions. The director of the arrival centre, who supported the strike stated that the move was a call to avoid “Dutch conditions”. Last week, the Dutch counterpart of Fedasil, Ter Apel, had to let hundreds of asylum seekers sleep on camp beds and chairs due to lack of space.  

This week the personnel of the centre engaged in a new strike asking for more investment in equipment and the creation of a system to prevent the capacity of the operational services from fluctuating. In this regard, the staff stated that as migration movements come and go, services are always cut back when there is a decrease in the amount of people arriving, with trained staff made redundant. As a result of these cut-back exercises, the arrival centre and the overall reception network cannot adapt swiftly when there is an increase in the number of applicants and has to occasionally refuse people who want to apply for international protection. The secretary of asylum and migration, Sammy Mahdi, responded that additional personnel for the overall asylum services are currently being recruited and that the capacity of the reception network will be increased. 

Unfortunately, this situation is not new: the lack of reception capacity is a recurring concern in Belgium. Asylum seekers being unable to access the asylum procedure and the reception system was also reported in 2018, 2019 and 2020. 

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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.