• The number of people claiming asylum for the first time in Belgium decreased in 2023 but the country’s reception crisis continues unabated.
  • The Irish government has unveiled plans to provide 14,000 state-owned accommodation places as new data shows that there were 1399 homeless male asylum seekers in Ireland earlier in March.
  • The Luxembourg Administrative Court has for the first time ordered the State to provide accommodation to a homeless asylum seeker.
  • Kent County Council has asked the UK High Court to oblige the government to take measures to help it find accommodation for a large number of unaccompanied child asylum seekers that are predicted to arrive in the county in the coming months.
  • The prefecture of Paris continues operations of forced evictions ahead of the upcoming Olympic games.

Although the overall number of people applying for asylum in the EU increased in 2023, there was a decrease in the number of applications in Belgium. According to data published by the European Commission’s statistical department (Eurostat) on 25 March, 1.049 million people applied for asylum for the first time across all 27 EU member states (20% increase from 2022) but only 29,260 of them were in Belgium (8.8% decrease from 32,100 in 2022). State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor has claimed that the decrease in Belgium was due to a significant decrease in the number of asylum applications by unaccompanied minors from Afghanistan. However, Pascal Debruyne from the Odisee University of Applied Sciences has argued that it was more due to the “poor and uncertain reception situation” in Belgium. The desperate conditions in which many people seeking asylum in Belgium have found themselves in recent years are well documented. “I know people who have been sleeping on the streets for more than six months,” said Amin Majidi Emaduddin, an Afghan refugee who has been living in Belgium for nine years. Magali Pratte from the NGO Bruss’Help highlighted one of the damaging effects that the reception crisis and Belgium’s ongoing failure to meet its human rights obligations under international law to provide housing and other essential goods and services to asylum seekers was having on people seeking asylum in the country. “People are staying on the street for longer, so they are more damaged and are presenting more severe mental health problems,” she told the Brussels Times.

On 27 March, the Irish government unveiled its new ‘Comprehensive Accommodation Strategy’ for people seeking asylum in the country. According to a press release, the strategy will result in a move away from the use of private accommodation and the provision of “14,000 state-owned beds” by 2028. Announcing the new strategy, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman said it would: “address the immediate accommodation crisis in International Protection, and provide a pathway, over the next five years, to deliver a fair, efficient, and sustainable model of accommodating International Protection applicants”. The head of ECRE member organisation the Irish Refugee Council, Nick Henderson, gave the strategy a cautious welcome. “While the plan has several positive elements such as confirmation of a child benefit style payment and accommodation for vulnerable groups, the plan is extremely light on detail, dependent on funding that is not yet confirmed and crucially, does not demonstrate a sufficiently urgent way to end the current homelessness crisis,” he said in a press release. Henderson also expressed concerns about the government’s statement that there was an increasing likelihood that “families, including women and children could find themselves without an offer of accommodation in the coming weeks or months”. “This is of grave concern and a doomsday scenario that must be avoided. The prospect of women and children being without accommodation should cause alarm and action across all of government,” he added. The announcement comes as the government continues to report on an increase in the number of homeless asylum seekers. On 29 March, 1,517 international protection applicants are awaiting an offer of accommodation.

On 8 March, for the first time, the Luxembourg Administrative Court ordered the State to provide housing for a homeless asylum seeker. The ruling followed a plea from a person who had been seeking asylum in the country but who had been informed by the director of the National Reception Office (ONA) that the accommodation network was at full capacity. In its ruling, the Administrative Court noted that the person concerned risked suffering “serious harm with permanent after-effects on their physical and mental health” and demanded that the State took all possible measures to ensure that they could be accommodated “under the conditions provided for by law, either in a state structure for asylum seekers, or in a hotel room”. In a press release, ECRE member organisation Passerell described the ruling as “an encouraging signal for the rule of law in Luxembourg”. “This remains a positive decision and a signal of hope in the face of the reception crisis in which Luxembourg seems to be bogged down,” it added. The organisation also noted that between October 2023 and January 2024 more than 280 people seeking asylum had been refused access to a place in an ONA institution.

A local authority in the south of England has warned that it may soon run out of places to accommodate unaccompanied children seeking asylum who arrive in the UK on small boats. At a high court hearing, Kent County Council (KCC) submitted evidence that, as of 4 March, it was accommodating 423 unaccompanied children of whom 346 were in long-term care and 77 were awaiting transfer to other local authorities. The court was also informed that, according to forecasts, up to 3541 unaccompanied children could arrive on small boats between March and December but that KCC only had places for 1631 of them. KCC’s legal representative asked the court to order the government to make alternative arrangements if the large number of arrivals meant that the authority was unable to fulfil its legal obligations. The hearing was part of a long-running case to challenge the Home Office’s use of hotels to accommodate unaccompanied children seeking asylum following revelations that many of those children have gone missing. The lawyer representing the NGO Every Child Protected Against Trafficking, which is also involved in the case, told the court that the situation was a “groundhog day” which continued to “leave vulnerable children in limbo”.

Meanwhile, forced eviction operations in the capital of Paris are reportedly on the rise, especially with the upcoming Olympic games. Civil society organisations accused the French police of launching a “social cleansing” operation on the streets of Paris. On 23 March, Utopia56 published a footage of the police waking up about a dozen of asylum seekers and migrants along the St Martin Canal in Paris before spraying the inside of their tear gas tent. According to the organisation, the operation resulted in injuries. On 6 March, around 400 unaccompanied young migrants sleeping in an informal camp along the banks of the Seine River near the Sully and Marie bridges were moved on by the police without providing them a shelter. Additionally, also in efforts to “clean-up” ahead of the Paris Olympics, the prefecture of Paris has been moving hundreds of homeless migrants from the capital to rural and small towns. This has sparked anger among far-right mayors. Serge Grouard, the right-wing mayor of Orleans in central France, complained on 25 March about the arrival of up to 500 homeless migrants in his town of 100,000 people without his prior knowledge. “It has been proved that every three weeks, a coach arrives in Orleans from Paris, with between 35-50 people on board,” he told reporters, adding that there were rumours it was to “clean the deck” in the capital ahead of the Olympics in July and August. According to the mayor, each new arrival is offered three weeks in a hotel at the state’s expense, but is thereafter left to fend for themselves, Grouard explained.

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