The refugee crisis in Brussels is deteriorating rapidly

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Relief workers with Syrian refugees. Brussels, 20 September. [Joel Schalit/Flickr]

Citizens engaged in helping hundreds of refugees arriving in Brussels are overwhelmed. The Belgian government should take greater responsibility for the humanitarian crisis, write Elke Zander and Anja Werner. 

The following open letter was sent to EURACTIV by a group of Brussels residents called ‘Community Support for Refugees in Belgium’. The letter is addressed to the Prime Minister of Belgium, Charles Michel.

Dear Prime Minister,

We are contacting you to express our concern over the untenable situation of refugees in Belgium, and to urgently call on the Belgian government to live up to its international obligations, to take responsibility for the humanitarian crisis developing in the capital of Europe and to take immediate action to solve this crisis.

We are a Facebook group with over 3,500 members called ‘Community Support for Refugees in Belgium’. As citizens engaged in helping hundreds of refugees arriving in Brussels every day, we feel that the government is inappropriately relying on the good-will and financial support of private individuals and NGOs to host, feed and care for hundreds of refugees.

These people have fled terrorism and war, and after long and often dangerous journeys, they find themselves not in the safety they had hoped for but out in the freezing streets of one of the world’s wealthiest countries, right in the capital of the European Union. Many of those arriving are unaccompanied minors and families with small children.

In Brussels, the situation has been deteriorating rapidly, and we have a real crisis on our hands. The Belgian government has abandoned its responsibilities and the official system has broken down: The ‘pre-accueil’ facilities for new arrivals provided by the Red Cross at the World Trade Centre III do not provide sufficient shelter, leaving hundreds in the streets every night, until they are finally able to register at the immigration office, with a waiting time of more than two weeks at this point. In the meantime, new arrivals are left to their own devices and have to rely on Brussels citizens to fulfil what should be the government’s responsibility.

Members of our informal Community Support Group, alongside numerous similar initiatives, have been engaged in helping refugees for many weeks now, at great financial and personal cost. This has included hosting and feeding refugees in hotels and private homes, organising and paying for their medical care, regular food distribution in the streets and train stations, as well as donations of clothes, hygiene articles, sleeping bags and other essentials.

We accept the responsibility of all citizens of Belgium to contribute to the reception and integration of refugees fleeing conflict.

However, as private individuals with full time jobs, university courses to follow, not to mention our own families to care for, we have been depleting our financial and emotional reserves, and we cannot be expected to bear this massive burden much longer, although our conscience as responsible human beings urges us to do so.

Real and sustainable solutions have to be found quickly: More housing and feeding facilities are urgently needed, the number of daily registrations has to be increased significantly, refugees must be given a ‘convocation’ instead of being forced, needlessly and in increasing numbers, to wait in line every day, and all asylum applications must be treated and considered immediately in line with international law, if we are to avert a humanitarian crisis right on our doorstep.

Despite our best efforts, the situation is getting more precarious by the day. We are therefore calling on the government to stop relying on private citizens to make up for its failures and to take urgent steps to alleviate this desperate situation.

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