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Belgian leaders search for common approach to address Ukrainian refugee crisis
Representatives of the federal government and the three regions will meet on Thursday at 9:30 to discuss the reception of refugees from Ukraine, it was announced on Wednesday.
After the subject of Ukrainian refugees was discussed at a national security council session and a meeting of a select committee of the federal government on Wednesday, it was decided that the huge challenge of welcoming them in such numbers would need a common approach. In response, the federal government, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels have arranged to meet in the hope of finding one.
Initiatives are already being taken within the municipalities. The City of Brussels has announced the opening of Palais 8 at Heysel as a registration centre for Ukrainian refugees. The centre, which will open in the next few days, will operate in addition to the one that was opened in the former Jules Bordet hospital. However, Palais 8 will not be used to accommodate refugees.
The old Jules Bordet hospital on Boulevard de Waterloo has been under immense pressure since it opened on Monday with more and more Ukrainian refugees queuing to register there every day. In recent days, more than 2,200 Ukrainian refugees have been registered. On Tuesday alone, the Immigration Office registered 806 Ukrainian refugees. The queues outside on Wednesday also suggested that the authorities were seeing just the tip of the iceberg.
Many of the Ukrainians have been returning to the site every day. "This is already the third day that I am here to queue," said one man. "I left Kiev on the 25th and was stuck at the border with Poland for almost a week. I came here because Belgian websites showed that there are good facilities here, but that is propaganda. The system doesn't work, the government doesn't work. If the centre wasn't ready, why did they open it? I'm here with my wife and kids. There are Ukrainians who are older than 80 years and have been queuing next to me for just as long."
The centre has been overwhelmed by the number of refugees but the problems are exacerbated by what many say is a lack of information and communication. Even volunteers at the site have been outraged by the disorganisation.
With fears that many refugees may have to sleep on the streets, volunteers have been taking some of them home with them at the end of every day, only for them to return to the queue the next morning. Fedasil, the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, said that arond 100 people who were not yet registered were also offered a place to sleep in the centre to avoid having to sleep rough.
This is why state secretary for asylum and migration Sammy Mahdi wants to open the registration centre at Heysel with help from the Brussels mayor Philippe Close and the owners of the Heysel Plain. “By Monday at the latest, the new registration centre must be in place," said Mahdi. Palais 8, which covers 7,800m2 should be large enough to register about 5,000 people per day.
Ukrainians refugees will be able to initially registrer at the centre. After a few intermediate steps, this leads to a protected status and a corresponding A-card, a residence card of limited duration. If necessary, the authorities can help to find accommodation in the city.
Furthermore, on Wednesday, Mahdi asked the government to declare the 'federal phase of crisis management'. This is a crisis management plan at national level, in which the National Crisis Centre coordinates all aid.
Elsewhere in Brussels, the European Parliament announced on Wednesday that it will make one of its buildings in the capital available to Ukrainian war refugees.
"We support all those who are forced to flee the horror,” parliament president Roberta Metsola Metsola told assembled MEPs who had gathered in the central courtyard of the parliamentary complex. "We have decided to make one of our buildings in Brussels available to Ukrainian citizens in exile."
The European Parliament will also provide tools for the Ukrainian Parliament so that it can continue to function despite the Russian threat, "to continue to keep Ukrainian democracy alive," Metsola added.