Belgium's asylum shelters to no longer take single men


The Belgian government says it will no longer provide shelter for single men seeking asylum, arguing its insufficient reception capacity should prioritise families, women and children.

European human rights organisations and aid groups 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.

Long lines of tents along streets outside the main processing centre 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 wanted "absolutely to avoid children ending up in the streets this winter".

Instead, single men will have to fend for themselves.

According to the EU Agency for Asylum, male applicants last year accounted for 71 per cent of asylum claims.

Belgium's move was met with criticism from human rights organisations, with the 46-member Council of Europe taking the lead.

Contacted by the Associated Press, the CoE's Human Rights Commissioner Dunja Mijatović said that "the lack of accommodation has serious consequences for the human rights of people applying for asylum in Belgium, including from the perspective of their right to health".

Last December, she urged Belgian authorities to provide better assistance to asylum-seekers after hundreds of people slept on Brussels streets in freezing temperatures, scenes that went on through much of the winter.

"I reiterate my call to the authorities to implement swift measures and durable solutions to address structural shortcomings in the asylum system in Belgium and ensure that accommodation is available for all those seeking international protection, including single men," she said.

Others were more scathing.

"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," Philippe Hensmans, director of Amnesty International Belgium, said.

De Moor complained that the influx of asylum-seekers over the past two years in the country of 11.5 million had filled shelters almost to their capacity of 33,500.

Last year, Belgium had nearly 37,000 applications for protection, the federal agency Fedasil said.