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40 people left without a place to sleep after migrant camp cleared

09:29 09/03/2023

An estimated 40 asylum seekers have been left without a place to sleep following the clearing of a makeshift campsite outside the migrant reception centre in Brussels.

The collection of tents had existed for four months before the surprise evacuation, Bruzz reports, which was done by police as a result of collaboration between Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort, Molenbeek’s mayor Catherine Moureaux and state secretary for asylum and migration Nicole de Moor.

Seemingly no one else was made aware of the planned eviction, including the numerous volunteers and aid organisations who were providing support to the migrants.

Rubbish and the tents themselves were thrown into waiting rubbish trucks.

The majority of the camp’s inhabitants were given medical screenings and provided with a housing solution, but many are still left on the streets.

"Security and health reasons" were cited for why the campsite was torn down, and Moureaux said that steps would be taken to prevent a possible new tent camp on a nearby bridge.

Some of those health reasons included cases of scabies and diphtheria among the camp’s residents, along with suspicions of tuberculosis.

An estimated 140 people were taken from the campsite via Stib buses in a first phase because their name was on a list of those eligible for transfer to a shelter.

But dozens were left behind. People unable to identify themselves or not on the list were not allowed on the buses.

“Those people have not only missed out on a shelter, but have also lost their tent and belongings,” said a lawyer for one of the migrants left on the street. “It's one misery on top of another.”

A solution is said to be in the works.

“Lawyers are now also trying to help [those left behind] get a shelter through identification, testimonies, or photos of those people at their tents,” a volunteer told Bruzz.

Moureaux said the municipality of Molenbeek was open to finding accommodation for these people “if they come with solid testimonies or evidence” that they were residents of the camp.

State secretary de Moor also told Bruzz that a solution would be sought for “the people who remained”.

In the meantime, 59 of the 140 residents who were granted shelter are being accommodated by the Brussels region, some having been placed in hotels. Others were taken to a municipal gymnasium nearby with the promise of more permanent accommodation.

“That will remain so for as long as it takes to integrate them in Fedasil centres,” said a spokesperson for Brussels Prime Minister Rudi Vervoort (PS).

The Molenbeek municipality did not want to share details about temporary accommodation for fear that more people would arrive hoping to enter them.

“We don't have the budget to take care of all the asylum seekers on the street,” Moureaux explained, noting that this amounts to more than 2,400 people.

“We only deal with the people who were present in front of the Petit-Château centre. In order to count them, the municipality had drawn up a nominative list last Tuesday. Only the asylum seekers on this list were welcomed in the gymnasium.”

But some of the people who perhaps would have been on the list were not, simply because they did not happen to be at the site when the census was taken, lawyers for these people say.

Others who were present were distrustful of the census (or even advised by lawyers not to provide answers) and refused to give information.

“The day of the census, I was at an appointment with my lawyer, and this morning I was at the hospital,” explained one Guinean migrant, who has been living on the streets in the freezing cold for two months.

Because the evacuation was kept a secret, no one knew to be present in order to receive accommodation: “My brother called me in a hurry to tell me that he was being taken away, but it was already too late. He is inside, but I am still on the street, without my things, without a place to stay. I don't know what will happen to me.”

Moureaux justified the secrecy of the operation, saying “otherwise a series of additional applicants would have arrived and made the operation impossible”.

Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/Belga

Written by Helen Lyons