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Staff at Petit-Château stage 24-hour strike due to overcrowding
The staff at the Fedasil immigration office in the Petit-Château stopped work at 8.00 this morning for a 24-hour strike. Workers are protesting at the lack of adequate staffing and overcrowding at the arrival centre in Brussels.
The Petit-Château on Boulevard du 9ème de Ligne, near the canal, is the point of first contact for asylum-seekers in Belgium. While they can register for asylum there, it also serves as temporary housing for about 800 people, along with about 80 other reception centres across the country.
But it’s nearly full, and the queues of people at the gate are growing ever longer. More than 3,300 people registered at the Petit-Château in September – the largest number since the immigration crisis of 2015.
And the Petit-Château is not alone; a few other reception centres in Belgium also shut down today in protest at the lack of space. A number of factors have led to the system become clogged this year, including borders re-opening that were shut due to corona, the floods in Wallonia making some reception centres uninhabitable and the influx of refugees who recently fled Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
More capacity, better conditions
“We are asking for two things,” Evelien Derekx of Fedasil told Radio 1. “More asylum centre capacity and better working conditions for personnel.”
With overcrowding, reception centre staff must intervene much more often in conflicts, which is putting everyone at a higher risk of stress or injury. “I see that my team is at the end of their rope,” said Derekx. “I keep having to ask them to work later and later. And the atmosphere in the centre is getting more tense.”
Derekx also points out that Fedasil seems to operate from crisis to crisis rather than anticipate fluxes in immigration and plan for them adequately. Employment contracts with Fedasil are also a problem because they are often temporary.
According to the secretary-general for refugees and stateless persons, the situation with employment contracts is being improved, and more staff is being hired – but this takes time, he said.
Migration state secretary Sammy Mahdi (CD&V), meanwhile, has emphasised that the Dublin Regulation – which lays out procedures for asylum requests in the EU – desperately needs to be adapted to prevent unauthorised resettlement. When one country recognises an asylum-seeker as a refugee and grants residency status, that refugee might, for one reason or another, enter another EU country and apply for refugee status there as well.
“This undermines the entire asylum system,” said Mahdi. “It is completely illogical that people who have been recognised elsewhere and are, therefore, safe, then apply for asylum again and be automatically given accommodation. Shelter should go to those who really need it.”
Photo: Striking workers outside the Petit-Château asylum centre