Rights body urges Belgium to better assist asylum-seekers

December 21, 2022 GMT
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Tents line a sidewalk in front of the Klein Kasteeltje center in Brussels, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. The Klein Kasteelje is the designated arrival center for all migrants entering Belgium and due to space restrictions some have resorted to finding accommodation in tents outside. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)
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Tents line a sidewalk in front of the Klein Kasteeltje center in Brussels, Monday, Dec. 19, 2022. The Klein Kasteelje is the designated arrival center for all migrants entering Belgium and due to space restrictions some have resorted to finding accommodation in tents outside. (AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

BRUSSELS (AP) — Europe’s top human rights body is urging Belgian authorities to provide better assistance to asylum-seekers after hundreds of people slept on Brussels streets in freezing temperature in recent weeks.

The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights, Dunja Mijatovic, wrote in a letter to Belgium’s state secretary for asylum and migration published Wednesday that a lack of available spots in reception facilities was damaging asylum-seekers’ rights to health and other basic needs.

Mijatovic said Belgium could not provide accommodations in October to more than 1,500 asylum-seekers, including families with children and unaccompanied minors.

“In addition to a lack of accommodation, people seeking international protection in Belgium reportedly experience further difficulties due to limited capacity to register their applications for asylum and to process them in a timely manner,” she said.

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In November, the European Court of Human Rights urged Belgium to provide assistance to 148 asylum-seekers left without accommodation.

According to Belgian authorities, the country saw a “significant increase of asylum-seekers” this year. A government agency said that in addition to 62,000 Ukrainian refugees who fled Russia’s war in their country, 33,340 other people had filed asylum applications in Belgium by the end of November.

In her response to Mijatovic, Belgian Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor agreed that the Belgian asylum system faces structural problems but defended the measures put in place to address the accommodation shortage.

Belgium says it has 33,000 places for asylum-seekers, the most in the country’s history, including “over 7,000 extra places created in the last year.”

De Moor said she was doing her best to make sure people “have a roof over their head,” making a priority of cases involving minors and vulnerable people.

She said not all of the court’s decisions could be immediately enforced because of a “sheer material impossibility,” and “by no means a political decision.”

Mijatovic’s criticism came just months after she urged Belgium’s neighbor, the Netherlands, to drastically improve reception conditions for asylum-seekers.

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