Asylum seekers in Maximilian Park, Brussels – Face to face with the Covid-19 crisis

By Melis Ozbardakci and Smret Gebreslassie

Hundreds of refugees and displaced people are left to fend for themselves, out in the streets around Maximilian Park in Brussels. Refugee Rights Europe has previously reported the heightened risk facing displaced people in Brussels, many of whom are UK-bound but others who wish to seek sanctuary in Belgium. The key concerns are related to the lack of access to essential services, which exacerbate psychological and physical conditions, as well as violence and abuse reportedly perpetrated against individuals by police in Brussels.

In addition, the outbreak of Covid-19 has further exacerbated the vulnerability of refugees and displaced people in this location. This can be attributed to poor living conditions that will heighten the risk of contagion. In a situation where physical distancing is unattainable, the Covid-19 pandemics has thus brought a heavy toll on displaced people in contexts of destitution.

In face of an increasing number of individuals sleeping in the streets, the situation for refugees and asylum seekers is particularly worrisome. The Porte d’Ulysse reception centre which is organised by the citizen platform, provides accommodation for 350 individuals. However, the reception centre is saturated and unable to host the evacuated asylum seekers.

In addition, various health measures have been put in place, leading to the evacuation of individuals without a structural solution which has rather aggravated the problem in forcing the asylum seekers to be out in the streets, says the co-president of the citizen platform of support to the refugees.

Equally importantly, since the start of the first lockdown in Belgium, around 167 migrants were evicted from the building of the NGO Action Damien in Jette, Brussels.[1] The number of migrants residing in the unsalutary conditions have increased, which is of great concern. In many settings, the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed challenges of social distancing and lack of hygienic supplies that would provoke the opportunities to isolate the sick people, therefore, increasing the risk of infection.

Photo: Abdul Saboor

At the same time, access to the asylum procedure was also temporarily restricted. On 18 March, the Belgian Immigration Office introduced its first containment measures and authorities announced the closure of the Office for Foreigners where asylum applications are lodged.[2]

On the suspension of access to the asylum system, it is certain that asylum seekers will have no access to asylum or get state support including housing, medical care and financial assistance. This further implies that the legal barriers asylum seekers face in Brussels may even leave even more people destitute.

After the temporary suspension, in April 2020 the application process resumed through online applications.[3] Nevertheless, the online application measure is effectively limited. For instance, through the online registration, asylum applicants should request an appointment but would then be left to wait for extended periods of time before they would get an appointment.

Moreover, the online application is only available in Dutch and French languages, which creates a language barrier. Also, completing the online form is difficult in a place where there is no access to internet. The situation for individuals in Brussels is hence complicated. For some people, most of whom are in transit with a hope to reach the UK, the situation is extremely precarious.

Many are trapped within the Dublin System, unable to move forward, but with no clear way out of their predicament.[4] According to InfoMigrants and other NGOs, the situation gives rise to multiple human rights violations,[5] with hundreds being left outside in precarious condition and with entirely inadequate measures taken by the government.

For further context on the situation for refugees and displaced people in Brussels, read more in Refugee Rights Europe’s previous reports here and here.

Photo: Abdul Saboor







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