Belgian NGOs protest at PM's office over lack of solutions for asylum seekers
After a 'disappointing' meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo at his office over a solution to the country's ongoing asylum crisis, NGOs that aid asylum seekers are threatening not to leave his premises until concrete measures are found. This threat led the PM to walk out of the meeting in response.
On Monday, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo spent his day in meetings with various groups in an attempt to find a solution to the country's long-lasting asylum crisis, for which Belgian authorities have heavily come under fire throughout the year.
Having first met with protesting politicians from the French-speaking centrist party Les Engagés , who had camped outside his Open VLD's party headquarters on Sunday to criticise the Belgian government's handling of asylum seekers, which has seen hundreds of them sleep on the streets of Brussels.
This was followed at around lunchtime by a meeting between the PM and a delegation of associations that assist asylum seekers. Among the organisations represented were CIRÉ, Doctors of the World and Doctors Without Borders, who called on a federal crisis plan to be implemented within the next 48 hours on the issue.
However, as this was the third meeting between the Prime Minister and these NGOs in as many months, tensions were at a boiling point, especially given the multiple condemnations the Belgian State has received from various authorities with regards to their handling of the crisis.
In the end, at around 13:00, the group of associations stated that they would not leave the PM's office, until concrete measures were proposed. In response, De Croo is said to have walked out of the meeting and subsequently engaged in a shouting match with Alexis Deswaef, co-chair of the Citizens' Platform for Refugees.
"We are doing our best," De Croo stated, "2,000 places have been freed up and those who are outside have the possibility to find refuge," which Deswaef disputed: "this is not true, people are sleeping in squats."
As a result, the associations are staging a sit-in at the premises, as this represents an unforeseen situation in Belgium, with increased health risks for those affected. Furthermore, David Vogel of Doctors Without Borders informed Belga that "due to the lack of places in the shelters, these people no longer have access to health care at all."
The protestors give an interview from inside De Croo's office. © BELGA PHOTO GABRIEL MITRAN