On the 21th of October around 150 asylum seekers, mostly men from Burundi and Afghanistan, entered an empty government office building in Brussel. They are currently squatting inside of this building because the Belgium government is failing to provide them with a place to sleep. They named the building ‘Palais des Droits’, which translates to: Palace of the right. Alex* a men from Burundi living inside the palais said: “I am finally able to rest a bit, but we still have a problem, as we don’t get the same rights that we would get when we are inside the centre.” Since then, temperatures dropped even more and at the point of the interview 600 men were living inside the palais.
Belgium’s system for asylum seekers is not functioning. Fedasil, the federal agency for the reception of asylum seekers, is not able to give shelter to people who have applied through the official channels. European law ensures that asylum applicants have access to housing, food, clothing, health care, education for minors and access to employment. Currently many countries are facing difficulties with housing refugees, as we saw over the summer. The problem has become more urgent now that winter is approaching and the systems in place are not equipped to deal with the number of people applying.
The men living in the palais all have annex 26. This is the document that the Belgium government gives people so that they can prove that they have applied for asylum. The document should ensure them a place in a centre, where they can safely await the next steps in their asylum procedure, as this is European law. In Brussel, near the reception centre, many refugees are still sleeping on the street and lining up early in the morning hoping to secure a spot in the centre.
Reporter Berit Kramer visited the ‘Palais des Droits’ and spoke with Alex* a men living inside the Palais, Oceane Juchet, a social worker trying to help the men and Mieke van den Broeck a lawyer fighting for their rights.
*Alex’s real name is known by the author, but not published for safety reasons.