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Court condemns Belgium's failure to receive asylum seekers
The Belgian state has been condemned by the Brussels Court of First Instance for not directly offering reception to asylum seekers who had electronically informed the Aliens Office (AO) that they were seeking international protection, according to a statement signed by various organisations.
The organisations that have brought the case against the state include: the Ciré (Coordination and Initiatives for Refugees and Foreigners), ADDE (Association for the Rights of Foreigners), law service Avocats.be, CAW Brussel (The Centre for General Welfare Work), the League of Human Rights , legal experts NANSEN, migrant organisation ORBIT vzw, the Citizens' Platform for Refugee Support, the Brussels Youth Law Service and Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen (Flemish Refugee Action).
Due to the health restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic, people in need of international protection in Belgium must, from April of this year, register online and then wait for the AO to schedule an appointment. The aforementioned organisations revealed that between registering and the scheduling of an appointment, asylum seekers were not received despite being entitled under European law and Belgian law.
Fedasil (the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers) has been condemned several times by the Labour Court in recent months and forced, under penalty of fines, to immediately receive people waiting for an appointment at the AO. Waiting times for an appointment can vary from a few days to weeks or even months. Applicants find themselves on the streets, or in precarious living conditions and in defiance of public health rules.
The associations say they have challenged former Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Maggie De Block, Fedasil and the AO on numerous occasions, without response. They have put the State on notice to find accommodation and socio-legal support solutions. An appeal against the decision is still possible but it will not have any suspensive effect: the judgment is provisionally enforceable.
The organisations revealed that the existing system relating to people seeking international protection in Belgium allows the authorities to limit the number of asylum applications made per day - thus introducing implicit quotas - depending on the capacity of the AO staff and that of Fedasil.
“The pressure of the reception network is the result of the mismanagement of the Asylum and Migration Secretariat,” the statement read. “We demand that the State put an immediate end to this illegal scheme and that solutions be immediately offered to asylum seekers who submit the form online. Belgium must pursue a welcoming policy that respects European and Belgian law.”
The judge now requires the Belgian state to take the necessary measures to ensure that asylum seekers are welcomed as soon as they register online. The state will have 30 days to do so, after which a penalty of €2,500 euros will apply for each day of delay, up to a maximum of €100,000.