The street, the fate of many asylum seekers in Brussels

By Bruno Fortea Miras

Brussels, Mar 3 (EFE).- Huddled in tents, with barely enough clothes to stay warm, dozens of migrants have been sleeping rough for weeks in Brussels outside the largest migrant reception center in Belgium.

Most are young men, mainly from Afghanistan, but there are others from Burundi, Eritrea and Palestine who arrived in Belgium to find an overwhelmed public system that cannot guarantee them a roof over their heads due to the lack of available spots in shelters.

The Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (Fedasil), which is in charge of taking in refugees in Belgium, warned late last year that its network of centers was saturated, admitting that it has been common to see asylum seekers sleeping in the streets for over a year.

That is the case for Assad, a 21-year-old Afghan man who has been living on the street for nine months, he tells Efe.

“Why don’t they give us passports?” asks the young man, who says that he worked as a driver back home.

Another man, also an Afghan, tells Efe from his tent that he has been homeless in Belgium for half a year. He says that the Red Cross is one of the few organizations that has given them food while they have been living on the street.

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is another charity that has tried to improve the conditions of the nearly 200 migrants, according to the NGO’s calculations, who are camped next to the Brussels canal, in front of the main reception center for refugees in Belgium, the so-called Petit Chateau (‘Little Castle’).

“The situation is very undignified for a city like Brussels, in northern Europe. Until two weeks ago, people had no access to water or anywhere to go to the toilet, so they relieved themselves in the street or in the canal,” MSF’s policy manager in Belgium, David Vogel, tells Efe.

The NGO has installed huts with toilets and provides drinking water to migrants through a hydrant, solutions that Vogel says are normally used in less developed parts of the world rather than the heart of prosperous Europe.

The organization also provides medical and psychological care to the asylum seekers in the camp, who during the day can go to a center co-managed by MSF where there are showers, activities, clothing and food.

In terms of their health, Vogel says they have detected cases of scabies in 80% of the migrants in the camp who have been treated by MSF staff, although there are also patients with tuberculosis or other serious diseases, such as HIV or cancer, who had not received any treatment.

Some Belgian citizens also come to the area to help the migrants, like Sophie, who lives two streets away. She has already come several times to give them food, mattresses and, above all, slippers, as some of them have only flip-flops to wear.

“I went to the supermarket with these people and asked them if they wanted anything. I talked to them a little bit, and they told me they needed slippers, slippers and more slippers. I asked my friends if they could lend me some, and now I give as many slippers as I can,” Sophie tells Efe.

Earplugs are another item that the asylum seekers have asked Sophie for, as they are camped next to one of Brussels’ busiest roads.

For Arianne, a resident of the central district of Molenbeek, the situation is “unacceptable.”

“It is a difficult situation (…) I have not hesitated at any time to lend them a hand. They are in a very precarious state,” Arianne tells Efe.


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