Health minister seeks hospitals to house asylum seekers

Health minister Frank Vandenbroucke (Vooruit) has sent a letter to all recognised hospitals in Belgium asking if they have space to accommodate asylum seekers this winter, VRT NWS reported on Monday.

Prime minister Alexander De Croo (Open VLD) wants to prevent asylum seekers from sleeping on the streets this winter and has asked ministers to explore 2,000 to 4,000 potential shelter sites in their areas. Vandenbroucke has contacted hospitals to see if there were empty buildings, wards or corridors that could be isolated from patients.

"I am afraid that hospitals may not be the right place to look"

Margot Cloet, CEO of the healthcare umbrella organisation Zorgnet-Icuro, is not in favour of this idea. "I understand the minister's concern," she said on Radio 1. "Vandenbroucke is trying to find a solution to an important problem. However, I am afraid that hospitals may not be the right place to look."

She said that few hospitals have empty buildings or corridors, and most of those that are empty no longer meet certain standards. She also emphasised the core mission of hospitals, which is to provide medical care. "We already have a staff shortage, and the winter season, with its high incidence of infectious diseases, requires us to work fast."

Limited places available

Marcel Van der Auwera has been appointed to coordinate the appeal to hospitals, and says some locations have already been identified. "Margot Cloet is right," he said. "The core mission of hospitals is healthcare. However, some hospitals have recently moved and have buildings or wings that have been vacant for a few weeks but were used for patient care until then."

These buildings may be outdated, but Van der Auwera believes they can provide adequate shelter during the winter. "I admit that the number of places available is limited. Specifically, there are about 80 places: one site with 60 beds and two sites with about 10 beds each".

Fedasil, the federal agency responsible for the reception of asylum seekers, has been informed of the available places and will now assess the possibilities.



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