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Police drag away asylum seekers occupying ULB sports hall

21:38 19/02/2024

A sports hall at ULB university in Brussels that was occupied by asylum seekers as part of an initiative from the ‘Stop the Reception Crisis’ collective has been evacuated by police, in an operation described by some as heavy-handed.

The original plan was to house people at an empty building belonging to the Federal Crisis Centre on Avenue Albert II in Brussels, Bruzz reports, as was done last year in March in a similar action aimed to draw attention to the ongoing refugee crisis in Belgium.

But police prevented the occupation from going ahead and the collective and some 50 asylum seekers instead went to a sports hall at ULB.

“Currently, there are 3,000 asylum seekers who have to spend the night on the streets in our country – a significant increase compared to last year's 2,200 people,” the collective said, calling for a local plan to tackle the issue.

“Even after asylum seekers receive a positive answer to their asylum application, they often remain homeless, and looking for work without a roof over your head is an almost impossible task. Thus, migration policy plunges countless people into both homelessness and unemployment for a long time.”

The collective also called for a clearer and more transparent regularisation procedure, along with the creation of a neutral and independent commission to examine each individual application for asylum.

After talks with the mayor and ULB's general manager, police from the Brussels Capital/Ixelles division intervened this weekend at the request of ULB and the building was emptied.

The operation, filmed by third parties, quickly made the rounds on social networks. Images of protestors and asylum seekers being dragged by their feet and arms sparked outrage among internet users and especially students and members of the university community.

“They weren't so radical when it came to taking action against rape on campus or giving people the chance to sit their exams in humane conditions,” one person commented of ULB.

The Cercle du Libre Examen reacted in an Instagram post which addressed university rector Annemie Schaus directly, saying it condemned “the immediate use of the police and the refusal to set up a space for informed negotiation between the occupiers and the academic authorities”.

“We would have hoped that our Alma Mater would have taken a stand in favour of this occupation and chosen dialogue and respect for human life, as support for undocumented migrants is one of its fundamental values,” the group wrote.

“We wish to remind you that free examination is not neutral and will always be committed to opposing all forms of opposition, injustice and intolerance.

"We demand that ULB provide accommodation for those evicted as soon as possible and that the federal authorities respect the rule of law and give asylum seekers a dignified welcome."

Sieghild Lacoere, spokesperson for Belgium’s secretary of state for asylum and migration Nicole de Moor (CD&V), said it was “undesirable” to institutionalise the squatting of buildings.

“Any building must be licensed for residential use, comply with fire safety standards and employ staff,” Lacoere explained.

De Moor is in favour of settling asylum seekers, with Lacoere adding: “This settling is also a reality: some 500 of the 581 municipalities have reception places on their territory. Our collective centres are spread across about 100 municipalities in Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels.”

According Lacoere, “the housing market is saturated in many municipalities and there is simply not enough housing available”.

Written by Helen Lyons