Belgium's government divided over mandatory distribution plan for asylum seekers
Tensions flared among Belgium's ruling parties on Monday over how the country should tackle its persisting asylum seeker reception crisis. A distribution plan requiring local councils to shelter asylum seekers is imperative to Groen (Flemish Green Party), but the country's Christian-democratic Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration was quick to dismiss their demand.
Belgium's shortage of reception places for asylum seekers has persisted for over a year, causing people who are entitled to shelter to sleep on the streets daily. In recent months, several local councils have opposed decisions to create additional reception capacity in their municipalities. On Monday, ruling party Groen called for a more forceful approach, but responsible State Secretary Nicole De Moor swiftly dismissed their proposal.
"We do not intend to wait until someone dies on the street"
"There will be an overall plan or no plan," Groen chairman Jeremie Vaneeckhout told local media on Monday. "We do not intend to wait until someone dies on the street," he added. For the green party, such an overall plan includes the possibility of mandating local governments to shelter asylum seekers. "By not managing the crisis properly, you only increase the polarisation around this issue," Vaneeckhout added.
"Speaking about 'a distribution plan or no plan' strikes me as an unhelpful threat to get asylum seekers off the streets," Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor (CD&V, Flemish Christian-democrats) responded. "I find it inappropriate for the federal government to put its tasks in the hands of cities and towns. Shifting problems to local governments is not a solution," added De Moor.
In recent months, a mandatory distribution plan for asylum seekers was also the subject of heated debate in the Netherlands. After months of discussion, Belgium's neighbouring country achieved a political breakthrough on 8 November and found a majority in favour of a new law outlining such a distribution plan.
According to the Belgian state secretary, comparing the Belgian and Dutch reception systems is intellectually dishonest. "Recognised refugees are in reception until they are allocated housing by municipalities [in the Netherlands]. That is not the case in Belgium," De Moor stated.
Asylum seekers sleeping rough at the registration centre of Belgium's agency for the reception of asylum seekers Fedasil in Brussels, Belgium © BELGA PHOTO JAMES ARTHUR GEKIERE