BRUSSELS (AP) — The Belgian government said Wednesday it is imposing a ban on providing shelter for single men seeking asylum, arguing its insufficient reception capacity should be freed for families, women and children first. Aid organizations condemned the move as reneging on international commitments.
Belgium has long come under criticism for failing to provide enough shelter to the thousands of people who are seeking protection from persecution back home and long lines of tents along streets outside the main processing center in Brussels have become a stain on Belgium’s reputation.
On Wednesday, Asylum State Secretary Nicole de Moor said increasing pressure on asylum housing was expected over the coming months and she “absolutely wants to avoid that children will end up in the streets this winter.” Instead, single men will have to fend for themselves.
The move was met with scathing criticism from human rights organizations.
“We thought we’d seen it all, but no. The Belgian government isn’t just sitting on human rights, it’s burying them by ‘suspending’ the reception of single male asylum-seekers,” said Philippe Hensmans, director of Amnesty International Belgium.
De Moor was complaining that the influx of asylum-seekers over the past two years in the nation of 11.5 million had filled the shelter centers to near capacity of 33,500. Last year, Belgium had nearly 37,000 applications for protection, the federal agency Fedasil said.
On top of the asylum-seekers, Belgium is also giving help to some 62,000 Ukrainian refugees who fled Russia’s war in their country.
Last year alone, labor courts convicted Fedasil over 5,000 times for failing to provide proper shelter.
Still, said de Moor, “our country has already done more than its share for a long time,” and called on some other EU nations to increase their effort instead.
Last December, Europe’s top human rights body already urged Belgian authorities to provide better assistance to asylum-seekers after hundreds of people slept on Brussels streets in freezing temperatures.
The Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights said that a lack of available spots in reception facilities was damaging asylum-seekers’ rights to health and other basic needs.
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