Amnesty International criticises Belgium's human rights record

Amnesty International has criticised Belgium for its failures in the refugee reception crisis, prison overcrowding and structural discrimination against foreign nationals in the labour market, the Brussels Times reports.

In its annual report on the state of human rights in the world, published on Tuesday, Amnesty International is critical of Belgium's inability to provide asylum seekers with the shelter and guidance they are legally entitled to, and its inaction to solve the crisis, which started in October 2021.

People have been sleeping on a long line of mattresses in front of the reception centre in Brussels, with minors and families with children left to sleep rough in freezing conditions. This has pushed others to find alternatives, including in uninhabitable squats, resulting in deaths

“The Belgian authorities continue to show themselves cruelly unworthy of the values they claim to uphold by leaving hundreds of asylum seekers – including children – homeless and destitute, in total contradiction of their obligations regarding the right to asylum,” said Philippe Hensmans, director of Amnesty International’s French-speaking Belgian section.

Dilapidated prisons

Amnesty International also criticised Belgium for refusing Afghan applications for international protection on the basis there was “no longer a real risk of becoming a victim of random violence” in Afghanistan, despite the return to power of Taliban groups. It criticised other EU countries for their treatment of asylum seekers and noted the contrast with the reception of Ukrainian refugees.

The report also referred to the overcrowding in Belgium’s “dilapidated” prisons where conditions are described as “inhumane”, particularly because of the lack of access to sanitary facilities and medical care, and the fact Belgium sells weapons that are “likely to be used to commit serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law”.

It also pointed to the “direct and persistent” structural discrimination against people of foreign origin, in the labour and housing market and by the police.

However, Belgium was praised for its work to prevent sexual and gender-based violence. In June, new criminal provisions relating to rape and other sexual violence that centre on the concept of consent entered into force, while the law also decriminalised sex work


Posters placed during a protest demanding action for asylum seekers without housing solutions in Brussels © BELGA PHOTO GAELLE PONSELET

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