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Belgian firefighters want to help with Australian bushfires
Belgian firefighters say they are ready to fly out to Australia to help battle the country's bushfires - but they have been told they have to wait.
Belgium's emergency response team, B-Fast, was last sent out to an international disaster after the 2015 Nepal earthquake. But its deployment has to be agreed by the federal government - and only after an official request for help has been made.
Record-breaking temperatures and months of drought have fuelled the massive bushfires in Australia. About 60,000km² of land has burned in Australia and 20 people have so far been killed - including three volunteer firefighters.
"The B-Fast teams can only be dispatched after an official request from Australia," said defence and foreign affairs minister Philippe Goffin. "If Australia makes this request, Belgium will then study the matter directly."
Eric Labourdette, president of the Brussels firefighters' division of the SLFP trade union, said the wait was frustrating and called on the Belgian federal government to be proactive.
"We know the extent of the disaster," he said. "We know we are not going to extinguish it with 30 or 300 Belgian firefighters as backup, but the very least we can do is offer our help."
He added: "We just want to lend a hand, whatever help we can give. We can prepare firebreaks, clear land, help evacuate, bring water, or provide assistance to our Australian colleagues when they take a break."