Spontaneous strike at Belgium's asylum seekers reception agency
In all 36 reception centres and at its headquarters, the entire staff of Belgium's Federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers Fedasil symbolically stopped working at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. At the reception centre Klein Kasteeltje in Brussels, all employees took to the streets to denounce unsafe working conditions and the broader problem of reception.
News that the registration procedure at Klein Kasteeltje was running very turbulently caused staff to sound the alarm with a spontaneous strike. Dozens of Fedasil employees came out to Klein Kasteeltje at 1 p.m. with protest signs bearing a clear message: "Enough, a solution now".
The acute safety problem at Klein Kasteeltje urgently needs to be solved, says the staff. At the reception centre in Belgium's capital, asylum seekers have to gather on the side of Brussels' busy inner ring road. There is more to the story, however.
"Every day we try to give people a place in difficult circumstances, but the issue is broader than reception. People have to remain in procedures for longer, so you have to create more capacity", explains department head Nils Baetens.
"Because the procedures take a long time and the residents don't receive a prompt decision, pressure and aggression are building up in the centres. We have become used to this and are learning to live with it, but at some point it has to stop and things start looking hopeless," said Baetens, who supports the strike.
The staff is asking for both short- and long-term solutions to the safety and shelter problem. The workers stress that they cannot solve these problems on their own. "We see a lot of solidarity among civil society and reception partners, almost against better judgment."
"We go to extremes, with no prospect of improvement. We cannot offer solutions on our own, they have to come from different agencies," Baetens says firmly.
Several volunteers and employees of aid organisations and citizens' collectives such as Dokters van de wereld, Vriendschap zonder grenzen, Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen or Caritas International came to show their support during the strike. It is not the first time that Fedasil employees have decided to strike. In October last year, two 24-hour strikes were held to denounce the overcrowding of reception network and deteriorating working conditions.
© BELGA PHOTO NICOLAS MAETERLINCK