As more than 3,000 asylum seekers remain without housing in Belgium, activists take over abandoned building to host 95 asylum seekers. Amnesty denounces police violence as tensions worsen in Dutch emergency shelters. ECRE member, Irish Refugee Council “welcomes judgment of High Court finding “failure to provide accommodation to international protection applicants is unlawful and breaches applicant’s rights under EU law”.
The reception crisis in Belgium is far from over and 3,000 asylum seekers remain without housing. According to the interim director at the Belgian asylum agency Fedasil, Fanny François: “The 3,000 is a maximum estimate of people, but not all of them are on the streets,” François underlines: “To say that they are all homeless is not correct, because several hundred are taken care of by the Brussels Region under an agreement that finances 1,200 and soon 1,500 places”. Meanwhile, activists from the ‘Stop the Reception Crisis’ collective have announced the opening of an abandoned building on Rue de la Loi in Brussels to house 95 asylum seekers. The building is located next to the headquarters of the CD&V political party, of which State Secretary for Asylum and Migration, Nicole De Moor is a member. “There is no asylum crisis, there is only a crisis of political will that is missing. Prime Minister De Croo also has a great responsibility to solve it,” the collective said, adding that therefore, masks of his and de Moor’s faces were placed at the building “to remind people that it is the government that has to open new shelters and not the citizens”. However, De Moor agreed that the solutions her government presented to address the crisis are “insufficient”, adding that her government is “looking for a solution for many people who on the waiting list through the emergency shelter that organized together with the Brussels Region”. In the meantime, activist Tjara Visser says that “new people still come knocking every hour for shelter” to whom the collective explains the consequences of overcrowdedness including epidemics. “What will happen to people who are eventually recognized as refugees and are allowed to stay in the country, but have first been left on the street for six months by the same state in which they now have to integrate?”, says Thomas Willekens from ECRE member Flemish Refugee Action. Meanwhile, Federal Ombudsman’s annual report published on 24 April highlights long delays and difficult access to the federal public services system in Belgium and points to a sharp increase in violations of the rights of foreigners in 2022. The rights of foreigners account for almost 40 per cent of admissible complaints and are related to the structural problems of the Foreigners Office which leave some people in precarious situations without work contracts or staying on the streets. “To date, there is no solution in sight,” the Ombudsman added.
In the Netherlands, as of 24 April 52,810 asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection were entitled to reception by the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA). 30,675 are housed in regular COA accommodation, 15,441 in COA emergency shelters, and 6,883 outside of COA accommodation (e.g. municipality crisis centres). According to a research by the outlet NRC, municipalities are increasingly imposing requirements on the nationality, age and sex of asylum seekers they are willing to accept – the preference being women and children rather than single men, unaccompanied children, and people from “safe” countries. Municipalities that have established such requirements include Rotterdam, Huizen, Maassluis, Zaanstad, Meppel, and Oirschot. Given the shortage of reception capacity, the COA is forced to acknowledge the demands. However according to Peter Rodriguez, professor of immigration law at Leiden University “The government must not discriminate”. Rodriguez further points out “In the worst case, all municipalities will refuse to take in people from countries the Netherlands considers safe. And those people will end up on the street”.
Police used severe force against peaceful protestors at the emergency shelter for asylum seekers in Zuidbroek – beating them with batons on 6 April. Amnesty Netherlands commented: “The images are shocking and call for an impartial and thorough investigation into the legality of the police’s intervention. Demonstrating is a right, not a favour”. Residents of the shelter protested earlier in March over filthy and insufficient sanitary facilities, mouse nuisance and lack of attention to their personal situation. At the time, the emergency shelter with a capacity of 500 people was extended to September. While Martijn van der Linden – Spokesperson for ECRE member, Dutch Council for Refugees (DCR)- is grateful that the municipality of Midden-Groningen is making space available. He underlined that the COA depends on the locations proposed by local municipalities due to the significant reception shortage and that there is a need for structural solutions. Van der Linden stated (translated): ‘It’s better than the street, that’s becoming the maxim, the longer this reception crisis lasts. So you have to accept everything… Of course, that’s not how it works, especially in a country like the Netherlands”. Van der Linden further pointed to a growing frustration among asylum seekers: “These people feel completely forgotten. They came to the Netherlands and get placed in a huge metal box, with complete strangers. No one can tell them where they stand. Many people should have had the results of their asylum procedure long ago, but are still waiting”. DCR has noticed increasing tensions at multiple emergency reception locations. “People get discouraged and frustrated by the long wait, for example for a BSN [citizen services] number and the start of further steps in their asylum procedure. Many people have been waiting longer than six months, sometimes even a year”. According to the organisation: “It is therefore now serious and important that structural reception places of better quality are created as soon as possible, and that the IND provide more and faster clarity about the asylum procedure”. In mid-April twenty asylum seekers staying in a crisis shelter in Purmerend went on hunger strike attempting to draw attention to the lengthy review procedure and delays at the Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND).
Meanwhile, a court in Arnhem ruled on 18 April that the current regulation on asylum seeker work restrictions, limiting work to a maximum of 24 weeks during the year, conflicts with the EU’s Reception Conditions Directive. DCR, that has been advocating for revoking the regulation, welcomed the ruling, noting (translated): “We believe that providing effective access to the labour market for asylum seekers can make a big difference. Especially now, in times of shortage on the labor market and long-term stay in the shelter, which makes people bored and desperate because of the long wait”.
A report commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2022 concluded that the agency’s internal culture “was riddled with structural racism”. Foreign minister, Wopke Hoekstra promised reform at the time stating: “This is not who we want to be”. However, leaked documents obtained by Lighthouse Reports and NRC: “reveal that at the same time Hoekstra was promising change, officials were sounding the alarm over a secretive algorithm that ethnically profiles visa applicants. They show the agency’s own data protection officer — the person tasked with ensuring its use of data is legal — warning of potential ethnic discrimination. Despite these warnings, the ministry has continued to use the system”. According to the outlets, “Unknown to the public”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has profiled millions of visa applicants using variables like nationality, gender and age since 2015. The ministry’s algorithm, internally referred to as Informatie Ondersteund Beslissen (IOB), automatically moved applicants defined as “high risk” to an “intensive track” that can involve extensive investigation and delay. “Family members of Dutch citizens with a migration background are prevented in all kinds of ways by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from getting a visa for short stays”, said Dutch MP, Kati Piri.
The Irish Refugee Council “welcomes judgment of High Court stating that “failure to provide accommodation to international protection applicants is unlawful and breaches applicant’s rights under EU law”. In a press release, the organisation states: The High Court today declared that the State’s failure to provide accommodation, food and basic hygiene facilities to a newly arrived international protection applicant was unlawful and breached the Applicant’s Right to Dignity under the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. The case concerns a 17-year-old, represented by the Irish Refugee Council Independent Law Centre, “who was forced to leave his home and life in Afghanistan due to threats from the Taliban. When he sought international protection in Ireland, he was told that there was no accommodation available, and was instead provided with a 25-euro Dunnes voucher. This left him in a situation of street homelessness, and the ensuing degradations, including cold, rain, hunger, fear, danger, and theft of personal belongings, for three weeks”. Currently, more than 500 asylum seekers in Ireland are without State accommodation. Further, despite a government pledge that no women or children fleeing to Ireland would be left without shelter, four single female asylum seekers were without State-provided accommodation in the week following the closure of the Citywest transit hub on 24 January. The Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, stated it was “disturbing” that women were left homeless. CEO of the organisation, Fiona Hurley, further stated: “Aside from safety risks, we are concerned about the impact on the mental health and wellbeing of those who have fled persecution”, adding: “People are being left without a safe place to sleep and then expected to process trauma and isolation, arrange their documents, gather evidence of their claims, maintain contact with the International Protection Office, and attend appointments”.
For further information:
- ECRE, Belgium: Government Reception Plan with Main Focus on Restrictions and Return as Asylum Seekers and Activists Take Matters into Their Own Hands, March 2023
- ECRE, Reception Crises: Belgium Leaves Afghans in Legal Limbo, Asylum Seekers Including Minors & Families with Children are Left Out Without Shelter in Europe’s Capital, A New Law in the Netherlands to Accommodate Refugees Is Approved by the Right, November 2022
- ECRE, Ireland: Despite Warnings and Manageable Number of Arrivals Reception Crisis Escalates with No Accommodation for Single Adults and Debates of Time Limits on Support, February 2023