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Belgium's asylum crisis: symptom of Europe's failed migration policies

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By Valérie Gauriat
Hundreds of migrants are forced to sleep rough in the streets of Brussels
Hundreds of migrants are forced to sleep rough in the streets of Brussels   -   Copyright  Euronews

Every night in Brussels, aid workers are doing more and more rounds to help increasingly high numbers of asylum seekers sleeping rough in the streets of the Belgian capital.

When asked how long they've been sleeping in the streets, one Afghan man says three months while another states four months. 

Fedasil, the agency processing asylum requests, can no longer cope with the hundreds of people coming from Afghanistan, Africa or the Middle East.

Many of those who queue each day to be registered are left out in the cold.

The NGO Médecins Sans Frontières has put up a mobile clinic next to the registration centre.

“Since the start of the year, at least 5,000 people who have placed an asylum request and as such are entitled to shelter here in Belgium have been denied accommodation," explained David Vogel, advocacy officer at Médecins Sans Frontières. 

"There is a health situation that’s quite worrying. There’s an epidemic of scabies that's hard to control in Brussels since people without accommodation go back to their squat in the evening, or to the street,” he told Euronews. 

The crisis is so severe that there are even more Ukrainian refugees, who have a special status in Belgium,  sleeping outside due to the lack of space in the shelters.

“Although I showed documents certifying I’ve got cancer, they gave me shelter for one night in a hostel in the city centre. Only for one night. I have been staying here at the station for a whole week," said Tetiana Mukha, a Ukrainian refugee. 

In desperation, groups of migrants have occupied empty buildings. For example, one building that used to house 200 people, now has more than 600 living there in just a few days. 

Marie Doutrepont represents several of the occupants of the building's squat who are threatened with eviction. 

Along with a team of lawyers, she works around the clock to provide assistance for refugees. 

"The Belgian State has been condemned 7,000 times by the labour court, which said that it must provide accommodation for these people," she said in an interview with Euronews.

"The lawyers went to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which has just ordered provisional measures and confirmed that the law must be respected. That these people need to be sheltered. And that failing to do so is subjecting them to inhumane and degrading treatment," said the lawyer. 

The same day, the lawyer's collective had called their clients to join them in a protest.

Replying to critics that it lacks means, the government also points the finger at the absence of European solidarity.

Arguments the demonstrators say don't hold water, given the emergency of the situation. 

“Nobody on the street, nobody on the street, nobody on the street, nobody on the street!” chants Marie Doutrepont along with the other protesters. 

Find out more in our full report on Euronews Witness this Thursday at 9.45 CET.