The Belgian government has imposed a ban on providing shelter for single men seeking asylum, arguing its insufficient reception capacity should be freed for families, women and children first.
Belgium has long come under criticism for failing to provide enough shelter to the thousands of people who are seeking protection from persecution in their home countries. Long lines of tents along streets outside the main processing centre in Brussels have become a stain on Belgium’s reputation.
Keep readinglist of 1 item
On Wednesday, Asylum State Secretary Nicole de Moor said increasing pressure on asylum housing was expected over the coming months and she “absolutely wants to avoid” children ending up on the streets this winter. Instead, single men will have to fend for themselves.
The move was met with scathing criticism from human rights organisations.
“We thought we’d seen it all, but no. The Belgian government isn’t just sitting on human rights. It’s burying them by ‘suspending’ the reception of single male asylum seekers,” said Philippe Hensmans, director of Amnesty International Belgium.
De Moor said an influx of asylum seekers over the past two years in the nation of 11.5 million people had filled the shelter centres to near capacity of 33,500.
Last year, Belgium had nearly 37,000 applications for protection, said Fedasil, the federal agency responsible for receiving asylum seekers.
On top of the asylum seekers, Belgium is also providing help to about 62,000 Ukrainian refugees.
Last year alone, labour courts convicted Fedasil more than 5,000 times for failing to provide proper shelter.
Still, de Moor said, “our country has already done more than its share for a long time,” and she called on other EU nations to increase their efforts instead.
In December, Europe’s top human rights body urged Belgian authorities to provide better assistance to asylum seekers after hundreds of people slept on Brussels streets in freezing temperatures.
The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights said a lack of available spots in reception facilities was damaging asylum seekers’ rights to health and other basic needs.