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Asylum chaos: Brussels reception centre closed as demand soars

06:56 12/10/2022

As Belgium’s refugee crisis continues to grow, a key reception centre in Brussels was closed on Tuesday due to a lack of space and available security.

A record-breaking 450 migrants arrived at the centre on Monday, the highest number since the 2015 crisis, prompting a shutdown of the already over-run Petit-Château centre.

The flow of refugees to Belgium has increased in the wake of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and more recently as a result of the war in Ukraine.

Fedasil’s Petit-Château centre has been so over-run with applicants for asylum that people have been forced to sleep on the streets to avoid losing their place in long queues.

“We have no more places and there are still security concerns,” employees at the centre told Le Soir.

“There were so many single men waiting outside that it was impossible to bring in the buses with the families who had already registered in another office.”

Le Soir reports that Fedasil staff will go directly to the other office, on Boulevard Pachéco, in order to offer what few places remain to the most vulnerable applicants, namely unaccompanied minors, but there is no guarantee of a solution.

This latest closure of the centre is only the most recent development in a series of events that paints a highly dysfunctional picture of Belgium’s system for asylum seekers, which includes multiple sanctions for human rights violations due to the state’s inability to offer every arrival housing and food.

Secretary of state for asylum and migration Nicole De Moor (CD&V) confirmed that Belgium is facing a very large influx of asylum seekers.

“On Monday, for example, 450 asylum seekers were trying to register; on Friday, there were 360,” De Moor explained.

“These are daily figures that we have only seen during the crisis period of 2015 [at the time of the massive arrival of Syrians in Europe]. In the past period, the influx was already extremely high too.”

De Moor has therefore put a number of measures on the table for the government to consider, including opening more places. Currently, all 31,000 beds for refugees are filled.

An emergency reception centre for homeless migrants will have to be set up in Brussels, the minister said, and measures will also have to speed up the exit of people from the reception network, though it remains to be seen just how that would be accomplished.

Employees at Petit-Château have long been complaining that they were understaffed, even before the numbers of migrants surged.

“The tangible reality is that with the current influx, we unfortunately cannot take in everyone,” De Moor said.

“The system is simply running up against its operational limits. Fedasil and its partners such as the Red Cross cannot find enough staff to make all sites fully operational. There is no quick fix for this. Within the capacity constraints we have, we are giving priority to the most vulnerable.”

Written by Helen Lyons