Belgium’s system for asylum-seekers unable to cope as winter closes in

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Authorities in Belgium are struggling to cope with the number of asylum seekers, according to the country’s agency that deals with handling applicants.

With winter getting closer and temperatures beginning to drop, the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (FEDASIL) says it is in a race against time to give shelter to the overwhelming number of people seeking refuge.

“This week, 300 places are available, but that is not enough. We cannot fit everyone in. So the situation is quite critical and it is time to put all our energy into finding places, whatever the type of place, it does not matter as long as people have a bed and have the possibility of sleeping somewhere,” Isabelle Pluma, a FEDASIL employee on the ground told Euronews.

She added that the situation has worsened in recent weeks, with an increase in arrivals and a shortage of places due to the floods in Belgium last summer.

She also says that every morning, hundreds of asylum seekers are queuing in Brussels to try to complete their requests and find a place to stay.

The reception network is also totally saturated and the situation is getting more dramatic by the day, with many asylum seekers spending multiple nights in the cold, surrounded by dirt and rats.

The first to enter are the most vulnerable: isolated minors and families with children.

Single men are then given a chance, one after the other, but most of the time they end up leaving without an answer.

“We have been present here every morning for several weeks to provide coffee, tea and survival blankets,” Mehdi Kassou from the Citizens Support Platform for Refugees said. “Also to take care of people who are potentially hypothermic and finally to distribute some equipment and inform them as well as possible.”

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According to EU statistics, the situation goes beyond Belgium, with many European countries suffering from similar situations.

On Thursday, interior ministers will gather to discuss the problem, but right now a solution is far off.

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