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Court sanctions Belgian state and Fedasil over asylum failures

Illustration shows refugees waiting outside, in the cold, at the entry to the 'Klein Kasteeltje - Petit Chateau' (Little Castle) Fedasil registration centre for asylum seekers in Brussels, Tuesday 07 December 2021. (BELGA PHOTO VIRGINIE LEFOUR)
08:18 24/01/2022

The French-speaking court of first instance in Brussels has issued an order  condemning the Belgian state and the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (Fedasil) for their mismanagement of the asylum and reception crisis.

The 10 organisations that filed the action last November said on Friday that the court had ordered Fedasil to pay a penalty of €5,000 per working day, for every day where "at least one person wishing to submit an application for international protection will have been prevented from exercising this right.”

The organisations denounced the saturation of the reception network and the refusal to register most asylum applications at the Petit-Château arrival centre in Brussels.

Signatories include Doctors Without Borders, Doctors of the World, the League of Human Rights (LDH) and the Coordination and Initiatives for Refugees and Foreigners (CIRÉ).

The Belgian state had considered the application unfounded and had concluded that the application was inadmissible. However, the court of first instance declared that the claim was well founded.

"It is up to the Belgian state to provide the appropriate structures to deal with increases in the number of applications," the court said. "It has been sufficiently demonstrated that on several occasions, persons prevented from submitting their application for international protection, have spent the night outside, in sub-zero temperatures and without any care by the competent authorities. The violation of the right to a dignified life is, therefore, established."

The court said that it could force the Belgian State to increase its funding for asylum in order to meet its obligations if improvements are not made in the next six months.

In regard to the penalty payment of €5,000 per working day, the court limited the total amount to €100,000 per defendant. "The financial pressure is nevertheless significant for the Belgian state and Fedasil; potentially a million euros, which should motivate them to respect their commitments," said Sotieta Ngo, director of CIRÉ, who estimates that 30 to 200 people are currently left on the streets every day.

Several asylum appeals have been won against the Belgian state in the past. "It's been the same story every year for last five to ten years," Ngo said. "With the floods, the war in Syria, the overthrow of power in Afghanistan, the state is no longer able to meet its reception obligations, leaving people on the street, when they want to apply for asylum and should be able to join the reception network."

Within the European Union, the number of irregular migrants has returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Fedasil said in a statement on Friday that it surpassed the 30,000 admissions mark last week. "In the last three months, 2,904 places have been created," a spokesperson said. “These places are distributed in more than 80 collective centres, but also in individual housing organized by the Public Centre for Social Welfare (CPAS) partners and associations.”

However, the new centres "are not enough to accommodate all the asylum seekers who will present themselves in the coming weeks in front of our arrival centre at the Petit-Château in Brussels,” the spokesperson added. “Fedasil continues to search for new sites, and further centre openings are planned in the coming months.”

Written by Nick Amies