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New facility for asylum seekers in Schaerbeek

09:11 14/09/2023

A vacant container village in Brussels that was created to house Ukrainian refugees will soon host asylum seekers.

The village on the corner of Rue Evenepoel and Avenue Georgin in Schaerbeek has mostly stood empty since it was built in January, Bruzz reports, as the flow of refugees turned out to be smaller than expected.

At the end of September, the village will begin sheltering refugees from other countries who are in Belgium seeking asylum, whose numbers have overwhelmed the Belgian system.

A total of around 50 containers are involved, which can house about 120 people with a pending asylum application.

“Due to the recent decision by state secretary Nicole de Moor (CD&V), many of these will probably be single men,” said Zeynep Balci, a spokesperson for Brussels prime minister Rudi Vervoort (PS).

Balci refers to de Moor’s decision to turn away single men at reception centres in favour of women, children and families.

The container village may remain temporarily until 2025 pending a major construction project on the site.

De Moor recently said that Brussels will try to provide 1,500 places in emergency accommodation.

“We accommodate those people in hotels or at the Red Cross and those costs run high,” Balci said.

“The containers in Schaerbeek were bought by the Regional Housing Company to accommodate Ukrainian families, so it is a good thing that we can use them for another group of asylum seekers.”

Schaerbeek’s mayor Cécile Jodogne (Défi) is less enthusiastic about the container village being used to indefinitely house single male refugees.

“We were told that the refugee camp would open in mid-October. We wanted another consultation before the move actually takes place,” a spokesperson said, adding that the municipality was only told this week that the containers would not be used by Ukrainian families.

Schaerbeek already houses 350 refugees at a neighbourhood centre. “A clear protocol was concluded, and everything was clear," the spokesperson added. "The cooperation with the police went smoothly and consequently there were no or few complaints from local residents.”

But in this case, with such little notice that the village intended for Ukrainian families temporarily displaced will actually house single men seeking more permanent status in the EU, Jodogne’s spokesperson said there are worries that local residents will be unhappy.

“The residents are concerned,” the spokesperson explained. “The competent authorities want to add places quickly, but above all we want the approach to be thought through beforehand.”

In terms of why a village with capacity for 120 people was left to sit empty amid a years-long refugee crisis in Belgium, the spokesperson for Brussels’ minister-president explained that the containers were only ready by mid-July due to technical difficulties.

The operation was also yet to be organised, for which consultations with the municipality and local residents are being held.

“We have now been discussing details for two months and finalising details for a move at the end of this month,” the spokesperson said.

Written by Helen Lyons