04 September 2015

ECRE member, the Flemish Refugee Council, along with CIRÉ, has called for urgent action from the government, due to the inability of the Immigration Office to cope with the sharp rise in refugees arriving to register their asylum claims. An unprecedented number of 1,000 asylum seekers attempted to register their claims on Monday 31 August 2015, with a backlog created by the weekend closure and queues forming from 5.30am.

Asylum and Migration Minister Theo Francken has announced that the Office will only deal with 250 claims per day. . It has been turning others away, distributing documents inviting them to return on another day for priority processing. However, as they are not entitled to accommodation or shelter by FEDASIL until they have registered their claims, refugees have been forced to sleep on the streets, leading to a humanitarian crisis. Many men, women and children have been camping in the Maximilien Park opposite the Immigration Office, and elsewhere, for periods of up to three nights. Flemish Refugee Council has already filed a complaint with the European Commission against Minister Francken.

There is no government provision of facilities such as shelter, healthcare, food and sanitation to meet their immediate needs, which has caused NGOs and voluntary organisations to step in. The Flemish Refugee Council runs a soup and information point, staffed primarily by volunteers, to welcome asylum seekers and migrants every weekday lunchtime. Médicins du Monde has installed a mobile unit named ‘Médibus’ in order to provide medical care to the refugees, some of whom had injuries allegedly inflicted by police on the Serbo-Hungarian border, with many others suffering from conditions relating to their long and difficult journeys to reach Belgium. The Belgian Red Cross have been distributing food, water and blankets in response to the humanitarian emergency. NGOs have also installed showers and toilets at the park while citizens have donated food, hygiene products and clothing.

The Flemish Refugee Council and CIRÉ demand structural solutions to be swiftly implemented: a simplified registration system, suspension of Dublin transfers, a larger waiting room with additional staff and coordination of safety in the queue. In addition, they call on the government to provide humanitarian and medical assistance and sanitation facilities to prevent asylum seekers living in degrading circumstances.

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