Rough sleeping and racism: Refugees struggle in Belgium

Report by Refugee Rights Europe says 94 percent of refugees in Brussels sleep rough and majority don’t get enough food.

Brussels Refugees
A majority of refugees surveyed said they struggled to find sufficient food [Samer Mustafa/RRE]

Refugees in the Belgian capital, Brussels, are living in “untenable” conditions with many sleeping rough and without access to sufficient food, a report by Refugee Rights Europe (RRE) has warned.

Researchers found that 94 percent of refugees surveyed in the city said they slept rough, while 73 percent said they did not get enough to eat every day.

Hundreds of refugees live near the Gare du Nord railway station and Maximilian Park in central Brussels, without access to basic services, the report by RRE said.

The vast majority of the 118 refugees and migrants surveyed by RRE want to reach the UK.

However, the closure of the “jungle” camp by authorities in Calais, France, 175km West of Brussels, which previously served as a transit point for refugees trying to enter Britain, has complicated the journey.

The camp was home to around 10,000 refugees when it was razed by officials in October 2016 and many of those displaced remain in the surrounding region, living in squats, shelters, and makeshift camps.


“Repeated evictions of Maximilian Park and Gare du Nord are compounded by poor living conditions, an acute lack of sanitation, and a problematic absence of accessible information about the asylum systems in Belgium and Britain,” said Marta Welander, the Executive Director at Refugee Rights Europe.

“The combination of these factors creates a situation of immense hardship and precarity facing displaced people in Brussels, right in the heart of Europe,” she added.

Complaints against police

Some of those surveyed said they faced heavy-handed treatment by the police officers, including the confiscation of belongings, including clothes and shoes.

In May 2018, a two-year-old Kurdish child was killed by Belgian police when they opened fire on a van carrying refugees and migrants in an apparent attempt to stop it.

The report said women and children were particularly vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking, with little access to information about their rights.

“We met a significant number of women and girls, who are exposed to heightened risk of violence and abuse during their time in displacement,” said Fee Mira Gerlach, a field researcher and coordinator of the study.

As well as the hardships that come with living rough and allegations of mistreatment by police, refugees and migrants also described the casual racism they face.

One 55-year-old refugee from Kuwait said: “When I was in a train a passenger said, ‘What are you doing here in my country? Get out of here!”

Though numbers are smaller than in Greece and other European countries along the refugee route, northern France and Belgium are home to thousands of refugees and migrants trying to reach Britain.

Calais’ port and undersea rail tunnel connecting the European continent to the island, are popular routes for those hoping to enter Britain.

That popularity, combined with stringent border patrols, has meant thousands remain on the European mainland, hoping to one day reach the UK.

Many have ended up spending years in France and Belgium.

Source: Al Jazeera