Reception centers in Belgium have been ordered to refuse entry for single male asylum seekers in order to limit the number of women and children who will be sleeping rough this winter amid a shortage of migrant accommodation.
State Secretary for Asylum and Migration Nicole de Moor announced on Tuesday that available reception places will be reserved exclusively for women and families, a move that may result in a sharp increase in adult male migrants sleeping on Belgian streets.
“I don’t want to be surprised,” De Moor told Flemish broadcaster VRT. “That is why I have decided to reserve all available places for families with children. I absolutely want to avoid children ending up on the streets,” she added.
Families have already been prioritized in the Belgium asylum system, leaving adult males often waiting indefinitely for reception places. However, it now appears that such individuals will no longer be considered for rooms at migrant accommodation centers for the foreseeable future.
De Moor insisted the move was temporary and would be reviewed periodically, although no timeframe for a review has been disclosed.
The government minister cited the recent influx of irregular immigration into Belgium as the primary reason for the measure and admitted that the government is struggling to create new reception places at a quick enough pace to meet current demand.
“The high number of asylum seekers arriving in our country over the last two years is still putting a strain on the reception network,” De Moor explained. “We continue to open new centers, but last year everyone saw how difficult it is to create reception places.”
The migration minister took aim at certain European countries that she accused had not taken their fair share of new arrivals during the current migratory wave, mentioning Portugal and Sweden in particular.
She stressed that Belgium “has been doing more than its fair share for a long time” and revealed that “19,000 asylum seekers have registered in Belgium, compared with 1,500 in Portugal, a country with a population similar to Belgium’s.”
The controversial EU Migration Pact being considered in Brussels, which will see member states obligated to receive migrant quotas or face a financial penalty of up to €20,000 per migrant they refuse, will improve the situation in Belgium and lead to a “fairer distribution of asylum seekers in Europe,” De Moor concluded.
Migration law specialists in the country criticized the move by the Belgian government, insisting the approach was discriminatory and unacceptable.
“This is absolutely not in line with international or Belgian law. Reception should be offered to everyone,” said Kati Verstrepen, president of the Human Rights League, as cited by the Belga news agency.