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Government reaches agreement on tighter asylum seeker policy

16:03 11/03/2023

The Belgian federal government will create more reception centres for asylum seekers in an agreement designed to take pressure off the regions and put an end to makeshift refugee camps across the country.

The government also announced that it would be putting in place stricter conditions for people whose asylum claims were rejected, as well as bringing more resources to bear on returning rejected asylum seekers to their home countries.

Until now, there has been only one point of arrival in Belgium for people seeking asylum – the Petit-Château in Brussels. Under the new agreement, there is likely to be three, one in each region.

The government is anticipating a total of 4,000 new places for asylum seekers – though some of that capacity will be reached by freeing up spaces currently occupied by people whose claims have apparently been rejected, though who may be awaiting the outcome of an appeal in the nation’s courts.

Speaking on LN24 on Thursday, the morning after the federal government’s select committee reached the agreement, Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort said the decision was “a step in the right direction”.

“We have been condemning this situation for years where the region has had to replace the federal government for the reception of not just undocumented migrants, but even asylum seekers, and all this in addition to the homeless”, he said.

“We have been waiting for a structural solution for years, and I think now we are going in the right direction. It probably won't be perfect, but there have been hundreds, thousands of state convictions – it's not acceptable in a state like ours.”

The decision also means that asylum seekers who have their claims rejected will have 30 days to leave the reception centre, regardless of whether they file an appeal with the courts. The government estimates that there are about 1,000 people in this position at the moment.

State secretary for asylum and migration Nicole de Moor said the agreement put into place strict measures over migration into the country.

"The status quo on migration is untenable,” she said in a statement. “The reforms, both at the Belgian and European level, give us more control over migration.

"The intolerable situations that we see today, I no longer want to see. With this first package of measures, we are taking the path of reform.

"Reception places will only go to those who are in an asylum procedure, cooperation on return will be enshrined in law, abuses will be combated and, as always, vulnerable people are protected.”

The agreement is also expected to shorten the amount of time taken for people who have had their asylum seeker claims rejected to be expelled from the country, with more support for voluntary returns as well as forced expulsions.

It will also be more difficult for non-Belgian parents to apply for family reunification for their Belgian children, with parents having to prove that they are providing for the day-to-day support of their child.

Written by Paul Millar