Asylum: the doors are closing

Fedasil is slowly closing its shelters

There are fewer requests for asylum and the process has been shortened

More than 5,000 spots for asylum-seekers in our country are empty. It’s a striking contrast with the crises in Belgium between 2008 and 2011, when hotels or streets were the only alternatives, due to a lack of infrastructure.

5,000 fewer openings planned for 2014. At the height of the crisis, Fedasil had to put asylum-seekers in hotels when space wasn’t available in its centers. Today, the occupancy rate in the shelter system is 75%. What’s the explanation? The lodging capacity has never been greater. After a record high on January 1, 2012 of 24,026 places, today there are still 22,604 openings. At the same time the number of asylum requests recorded in Belgium keeps shrinking – 25,479 in 2011, 21,463 in 2012, and 8,245 for the first six months of 2013. In addition the average time for the process has been reduced from over twelve months to six months. Conclusion – between 2008 and 2011 the federal government had to open 8,000 spots on an emergency basis that they now must close. The process began by closing temporary centers. Bastogne (550 openings) was the first at the end of August 2012. Weelde, Houthalen-Helchteren and Dinant followed. Gembloux will close its doors September 1. All in all that means that there will be 1,895 fewer temporary openings. The permanent center in Stoumont will also be closed.

“It’s the first phase of our plan to reduce capacity. First, we are closing the group centers that are the least appropriate,” states the office of secretary of state for asylum and migration, Maggie De Block (Open VLD). During the second phase, the number of temporary individual places will be reduced. There will be 543 fewer through local shelter initiatives (CPAS) and 600 fewer through NGOs between now and the end of the year. Between 1,500 and 2,000 indeterminate length shelter openings managed by CPAS will be done away with between now and the beginning of 2014. The final list will be announced at the end of August. In all, almost 5,000 openings will have been eliminated between the summer of 2012 and the winter of 2014. The Ecolos immediately denounced “a new hardening of asylum policy,” and especially the fact that the Di Rupo government “is attacking small structures in municipalities even though that approach allows for better integration of asylum-seekers.”

A reserve, just in case. Both Maggie De Block’s office and Fedasil insist that risking a new shelter crisis is out of the question. The capacity reduction will be offset by the creation of “reserve” spots that will be quickly available. “Changes in the number of asylum requests are hard to predict. For example, they might increase all of a sudden, in the case of a major conflict,” the secretary of state’s office explains. A reserve of some 2,000 spots is planned just in case. “In addition, we now have to work on the quality of lodging and supervision.”

A long-term trend? Maggie De Block’s office is guarded about drawing conclusions. They insist on “the efficiency of the measures that have been taken.” For example, the list of “safe countries” (six Balkan countries and India), for which the files review process has been reduced to fifteen days, or the end of lodging in hotels or the systematic execution of orders to leave the country. According to the secretary of state’s office, these measures have made our country less attractive for asylum-seekers. Other measures will produce more results, such as the reform of the way multiple demands are processed. These will also be accelerated. Communities are now criticizing these decisions, “the hardening of policies, the excessive severity of medical regulations”… Maggie De Block tirelessly opposes this point of view, “humane but just. Our country must remain open to those in need. But we must also fight abuse and fraud.”

VERONIQUE LAMQUIN

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