The federal government is responsible for the country’s struggle to provide accommodation to asylum seekers, Flemish Housing Minister Matthias Diependaele said on Thursday.
As the number of asylum seekers increases and the number of places to sleep decreases, the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (Fedasil) cannot cope with the arrivals anymore. This has resulted in a crisis where the Belgian Federal State has been accused of letting refugees sleep in stations or in the streets, including Ukrainians.
Diependaele admitted that “the problem is federal” and noted that while Flanders had committed to accepting 60% of arrivals, the actual figure was nearer 80% and, therefore always “does more than its share”.
On Wednesday, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Belgium to provide accommodation for 148 asylum seekers from different nationalities who filed a complaint, arguing they were at risk of “serious and irreversible damage to human dignity.” The Court also pointed out that it was the second time it applied a measure for Belgium.
Fedasil has been keeping a register of asylum seekers and reported that, during September and October, over 4,000 applications for international protection were registered at the Immigration Office.
“Figures that had not been reached since December 2015, during the Syrian migration wave,” Belgian State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor said on La Première last month before adding that Belgium has “more asylum seekers per capita than the Netherlands or Germany, which poses a challenge.”
According to the usual procedure, after registering, asylum seekers are assigned by Fedasil a hosting place in one of the country’s three regions – usually after a stay in a transit centre.
However, on Wednesday, VRT reported that de Moor indicated insufficient space for refugees at the transit centre because the regions could host enough refugees.
This situation was due to the Federal level no longer taking care of the first days of reception of the refugees, Diependaele said in parliament on Thursday.
“The Federal level would provide emergency shelter for the first few days, which gave time to redirect them to the regions. But that system is gone,” he explained.
“The federal emergency shelter has been de facto terminated, creating additional pressure on our local governments and the shelter system. Fedasil should take responsibility for this again,” he wrote on Twitter.
“Flanders keeps its word and does its agreed share of reception, which is 60%. Our local governments are doing a good job there. That is a sharp contrast to Wallonia, which is lagging with 21% vs. the promised 30%,” he added.
(Anne-Sophie Gayet | EURACTIV.com)