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After shaky start, Belgium begins to cope with influx of Ukrainian refugees

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By Christopher Pitchers
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Two boys sit behind a barrier in Brussels as they wait in a registration line for people fleeing Ukraine.
Two boys sit behind a barrier in Brussels as they wait in a registration line for people fleeing Ukraine.   -   Copyright  Olivier Matthys/Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Following weeks of disorder and disorganisation, Belgium is finally starting to cope with the massive influx of refugees from Ukraine, setting up a new, much larger registration centre.

The new facility on the outskirts of Brussels, which opened on Monday, is designed to help people fleeing the Russian invasion register for government support, including access to accommodation and employment.

The previous processing centre -- which had just ten desks -- was quickly overwhelmed by the number of people trying to register for help, with many queuing overnight.

There are 40 registration counters at the new one, with thousands of refugees already processed. According to government figures, nearly 10,000 Ukrainians have now been registered in Brussels.

Belgian authorities say they expect up to 200,000 refugees to arrive in the country -- an amount Dominique Ernould, spokesperson for Belgiums' Foreigners Office, says they can handle.

"Yes, we will do the maximum possible. Citizen mobilisation is also important," Ernould told Euronews.

"Fedasil, Belgium's asylum seeker agency, is still trying to increase its reception capacity," Ernould said. 

"The government is also going to do everything it can to put [in place] as much infrastructure as possible for these displaced people, at least during the time that this temporary protection lasts."

The registration centre is the only facility in the country to process Ukrainian refugees.

Initially, there were huge queues at the site, but things are now calmer, with people being processed quickly.

However, many of the Ukrainians waiting in line simply want to return to some sort of normality.

Tanya, one of the millions displaced by Russia's invasion, told Euronews she wanted to get on with her life.

"I have no idea [of what is next], but my plan is to get registered, to find a job and to have a normal life, just to work -- to settle my children at school and just to work here. I don't want just to sit and wait because nobody knows how long it will take," she said.

The process is part of the EU's recently activated temporary protection directive, which circumvents the traditionally overburdened asylum procedure and offers a quick and simplified path to access protection across the bloc.