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Flagey asylum seekers' camp dismantled after violence

08:47 19/09/2023

Asylum seekers and activists set up a new tent camp on Place Flagey over the weekend in order to send a signal to asylum and migration secretary Nicole de Moor that the policy needs to be addressed urgently.

De Moor (CD&V) announced that she would no longer provide accommodation for single male asylum seekers in the Fedasil network – a decision she says she intends to stick to despite the fact that it was overruled by the Council of State.

“If there are 100 places tomorrow morning and there are 200 people at the door, I will continue to give priority to families and children,” De Moor said.

“I cannot change that policy for the time being. The Council of State is right when it says that everyone has a right to shelter, but today there are not enough places to do that immediately for everyone.”

There were about 100 people present to protest at Flagey, including activists from the Stop the Reception Crisis collective, who were supported in their action by a dozen associations and NGOs, including ABVV, PAC, CIRé and Solidaris.

“These asylum seekers are among the 2,100 people currently being left homeless by Fedasil and the federal government,” Tjara Visser, spokesperson for the action, told Bruzz.

The number of migrants seeking asylum in Belgium has overwhelmed the immigration system and there are not enough places to house the refugees, meaning many are living in squats and tent camps such as the one set up in Flagey.

“There are so many solutions available – for instance, a 30-point roadmap was recently drawn up in consultation with the government, but it seems like that just got shredded,” Visser said.

“There has to be a long-term solution. It’s now been almost a year and the situation has not changed at all. I0n fact it maybe even got worse.”

The Stop the Reception Crisis collective is demanding that the Belgian state meet its obligation to provide the bare minimum “bed, bath and bread” to asylum seekers.

“Winter is approaching, so we certainly don't want the asylum seekers to have to sleep outside,” Visser said. “Hopefully the municipality will cooperate for a few days and this tent camp can ensure that a decent solution is found soon.”

At first, police merely kept an eye on the Flagey tent camp, which Visser described as mainly symbolic, but they intervened when violence broke out on Saturday morning.

While details remain scant, the collective indicated that people from outside the camp were caught trying to steal mobile phones and a fight broke out, while police seemed to indicate that the thieves were from within the camp itself.

According to Ilse Van de Keere, spokeswoman for the Brussels-Ixelles police area, “the fight involved about 10 people”.

Six people had to be taken to hospital on Saturday morning, one of whom remains in critical condition. Two people were arrested and a judicial enquiry has been opened.

Police have since closed the camp and 80 places were found in two hotels to accommodate the refugees until they are able to be processed by Fedasil.

“These incidents just go to show the extreme precariousness faced by asylum seekers in Brussels,” a spokesperson said.

“This violence is usually invisible, happening every day in derelict buildings and hidden camps. The Flagey camp is just the tip of the iceberg. Evacuating and dispersing the people from this camp will only leave them alone to face this kind of violence.”

The two people arrested as a result of the violence had been denied asylum, according to De Moor, who said they “were staying at the centre in Zaventem to be sent back to Croatia, where their procedure is ongoing”.

De Moor pointed out that those who have received a refusal decision are no longer entitled to reception.

In the meantime, Belgium’s prime minister Alexander De Croo reiterated that many thousands more places have been created under this government and that never before have so many resources been devoted to ensuring the rights of asylum seekers.

“We have to follow up on the decision of the Council of State,” he said, referring to the overruling of De Moor’s decision to prioritise women, children and families.

“Will we succeed in doing so tomorrow? No. But the winter plan is an important step.”

Photo: Kristof Van Accom/Belga

Written by Helen Lyons