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Belgium's migration minister suspected of knowingly violating right to asylum

12:35 15/06/2022

Belgium’s minister for asylum and migration Sammy Mahdi is suspected of knowingly violating asylum seekers' right to reception. 

The minister is reported to have struggled to maintain the flow of refugees to Belgium, which increased after the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and more recently as a result of the war in Ukraine

Fedasil, the federal agency in charge of receiving asylum seekers, has been accumulating hundreds of convictions in the last two years for failing to grant asylum, according to De Standaard. 

“Fedasil appears to have put in place a deliberate, concerted and persistent practice of not granting the right to reception to applicants for international protection,” reads an order issued by the French-speaking labour court in Brussels.

Initially blamed on the pandemic, this failure to uphold EU law when it comes to asylum seekers is more recently being justified by the oversaturation of the reception network in Belgium, which has been overwhelmed by the increasing numbers of refugees. 

But the court says neither of these excuses are acceptable any longer and a judge went so far as to say they suspect Fedasil of voluntarily ignoring the rules of the right of asylum. 

“This practice appears to be deliberate, well thought out and organised by the secretary of state for asylum and migration,” the judge wrote, citing as proof a letter sent by Mahdi to the French- and German-speaking Bar Association (OBFG).

In it, Mahdi explained that the right to apply for international protection is respected, but that a priority system has been instituted in order to offer a place to the most vulnerable.

Currently, over 20,000 people are waiting for a decision on their asylum application in Belgium.

Fedasil's reception network had fewer than 21,500 places at the beginning of 2019 and today has just under 30,500 following major changes that included the opening of new reception centres. 

Nevertheless, the Belgian system remains so overwhelmed that asylum seekers have had to sleep on the streets nearly every night since October, a matter for which Belgium could be criminally prosecuted. 

According to the commissioner general for refugees and stateless persons (CGRS), the current backlog of applications in the country has swelled to 13,300.

Photo: © Belga/Nicolas Maeterlinck

Written by Helen Lyons