Belgium's asylum system creaks at the seams as refugees struggle to find shelter

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By Valerie Gauriat
Long queues of asylum seekers form at registration centres in Brussels.
Long queues of asylum seekers form at registration centres in Brussels.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

Belgium is facing a major refugee crisis as its asylum system struggles to cope with the sheer volume of refugees applying for shelter.

Every morning for weeks now, long queues of asylum seekers have formed in front of the Startpunt registration centre in Brussels where families with children have priority, but even for them, a dramatic lack of accommodation exists.

Helene Asselman, a coordinator at Startpunt, told Euronews that she fears no solution will be found in the short term.

"These last days, we are seeing more and more 15-year-old minors, families with four small children who have no solution," Asselman said verging on tears.

"We try to find emergency solutions for them, but with what has happened in the last few days - with many more families and minors who did not have a place - I really fear that for the next few days, we will not be able to find a solution for them."

The system is unable to cope with more demands as reception centres in the country have no more room to spare.

One Afghan refugee told Euronews that he had been sleeping in the streets of Brussels for nearly three months, even though he managed to register a long time ago.

"They [Belgian officials] haven’t given us anything to camp in and we don’t have shelter. We are facing problems with clothes and wearables and every authority we go to, they tell us that there is no place," the asylum seeker from Afghanistan said.

"We sleep in the street day and night. Finally, we do not understand what our solution is. We are faced with different problems wherever we go."

Belgium has come under fire recently for failing to provide adequate accommodation to asylum seekers, with the European Court of Human Rights slapping the country on the wrist more than once this year.

According to the government, by the end of the year the total figure of asylum demands could reach 100,000 - a figure that increased with the arrival of Ukrainians escaping the war, who even with special status are starting to stay away.

Others refugees are coming mainly from Afghanistan, Syria, Burundi and Eritrea.

As winter fast approaches, observers and workers on the ground fear the situation will only worsen and while aid organisations call on authorities to take action, the Belgian government is pressing the EU for greater solidarity in managing asylum seekers, as well as a rehaul of the bloc's migration policy.