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Sit-in at immigration centre as hundreds of men turned away

16:35 10/12/2018

In response to the new women-and-children-first immigration policy ushered in by former migration secretary Theo Francken, more than 100 men took part in a spontaneous sit-in this morning at the Petit-Château in Brussels. The capital’s Immigration Office, where migrants request asylum, moved to the Petit-Château building on the canal last month.

In mid-November, Francken limited the number of asylum-seeker requests to 50 a day. He also instructed the staff to give women and families priority.

Because of this policy, many men are turned away day after day, increasing the number of homeless migrants. This could especially be seen during the controversy at Brussels North Station last month. Some of the migrants are sick or injured, leading some refugee organisations to file a complaint with the Council of State about the new policy on asylum applications.

Following a weekend that saw many of them sleeping outside the doors of the centre, this morning they staged a sit-in. They chanted “open the door” and “no mercy”.

De Block back on migration

“We are people,” one asylum-seeker who has been lining up every day for two weeks, told VRT. “We need a chance, we need an opportunity to come to this country, to work, to be part of this society.”

Some of the men are aware of the weekend’s events, which saw N-VA stepping out of the federal government. One of the consequences of the move was the need to replace five N-VA politicians serving as state secretaries and ministers.

One of those was Francken, who has been replaced by health minister Maggie De Block, who won plaudits when she was migration secretary between 2011 and 2014. De Block managed to skirt the line between a humanist and a strict migration policy, avoiding any serious criticism from either the right or the left.

“I heard that there has been a change in the government that has an effect on refugee policies,” one asylum-seeker told VRT. “I hope that the new administration will improve things.”

Refugee organisations are hoping the same thing. “Maggie De Block has already said that she wants to proceed with a more humane policy,” said Mahdi Kassou of the citizen’s organisation BXL Refugees. “We hope that what she has announced will happen and that she will abolish this limit that Theo Francken established.”

In related news, far-right party Vlaams Belang has organised a march against the Global Compact on Migration. Other like-minded organisations, including Schild & Vrienden, are joining the march on 16 December in Brussels.

Following the announcement of the march, organisations from the left, including the youth chapter of political party Groen, organised a counter-protest for the same day.

Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq

Written by Lisa Bradshaw



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