What is the situation regarding the 'refugee crisis'?
In 2015, Belgium suffered a major crisis regarding the reception of asylum seekers who had crossed our borders, illustrated by the image of hundreds of them sleeping in precarious conditions in Parc Maximilien in Brussels for several weeks.
So what is the situation in 2016? While the number of arrivals has doubled in 2015 compared with 2014, there is no telling what the migrant influx will be like in 2016, and no-one wishes to speculate on the number of future asylum seekers in Belgium following the recently concluded agreement between the European Union and Turkey.
In addition, the government has decided to close a number of temporary reception centres owing to the recent fall in applications, thus increasing the risk of a lack of available places if there is a mass influx. In any case, our country will certainly continue to see asylum seekers flooding in, fleeing war or persecution, and it will have to honour its international obligations in terms of reception and services as enshrined in the Geneva Convention.
Who are they?
Referred to as refugees by the general public, we must first distinguish an asylum seeker from a refugee and a person under subsidiary protection. An asylum seeker has applied for asylum in Belgium but the authorities haven't yet decided on their fate.
A refugee is someone who has fled persecution based on race, religion, nationality or a social group in their country while subsidiary protection is granted to persons who don't fulfil the conditions for obtaining refugee status but who would nevertheless be exposed to serious harm if they were to return to their country of origin, typically if the latter is at war.
In both cases, Belgium recognises their precarious situation and, on this basis and after analysis of their file, grants them the right to stay in Belgium. Behind these definitions lie tragic stories of families who once led a peaceful life and were forced into exile following the outbreak of war in their country.
Hence, 70 % of refugees or persons under subsidiary protection2 recently recognised in Belgium are from conflict zones (essentially Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan), having left an often endless situation (for instance, according to UNHCR, 86% of Syrian refugees have at least a high school certificate)
While many refugees are men who have left by themselves to "explore", conditions force women and children to also head for Europe and benefit from family reunification: we have seen an increasing number of women presenting themselves as asylum seekers and the number of unaccompanied minors has risen to 8% of the total number of asylum seekers since the beginning of 2016, compared with 3% in 2014; 15 % of them aren't even 13 years old.
How are they received in Belgium?
Between their first step in Belgium and obtaining refugee status, which guarantees them rights and the right to stay in our country, asylum seekers must go through several stages of procedures which involve navigating between Belgian agencies and institutions. Between administrative processes in a foreign language, long procedures, difficult conditions in centres and integration peppered with pitfalls, this process can be arduous and last several years. While Belgium has proven to be a model student in terms of reception in Europe, it could however do better to avoid these stumbling blocks.
Analysis of the process concerning asylum seekers in Belgium by the Groupe du Vendredi
The aim of the Groupe du Vendredi's report is to understand the process people arriving in Belgium today have to go through in order to improve the process for those arriving in the future. It illustrates the typical scenario of a young Syrian man whom we shall refer to as Adnan, who has fled his home town of Aleppo and come to Belgium alone to seek asylum. His age and the humanitarian and security crisis in his country are representative of the asylum seekers currently arriving at our borders. Every stage, from Adnan's arrival in Belgium up to his adaptation to Belgian society as a refugee, illustrates the problems encountered and the possible solutions that public and private stakeholders from civil society, or citizens on an individual basis, could implement. Together, these initiatives can change the lives of new asylum seekers and contribute to a reception and integration model worthy of the values our country claims to defend.
Adnan, one asylum seeker among many others…
Adnan turned 28 last week. He celebrated his birthday with his friends in his home town, Aleppo, the second biggest city in Syria. Adnan teaches history at secondary school level. Although it remained unscathed at the beginning of the civil war in March 2011, Aleppo is now under fire. One day it is the government forces who are dominating the front, and the next day it is the armed rebels who have the upper hand, with the subsequent bombings killing one civilian an hour.
Adnan's childhood friend, Hamed, was hit yesterday. The school has closed for security reasons. Adnan understands that the situation is unsustainable. Following his parents' advice, he collects EUR 4,000, which represents almost a year's salary, to flee the country and go to Europe.
Adnan decides to take the route via Turkey, which seems to be the least perilous. He arrives in Kilis, a border town in Turkey, where 2.7 million other Syrians have arrived before him. Through a smuggler who demands EUR 2,000, he is taken by truck to the Turkish town Izmir, opposite Greece. He stays there for a few days in insalubrious accommodation with other migrants. He is awoken in the middle of the night by his smuggler and told to go to the beach and board an inflatable dinghy, which he has to share with more than 40 other migrants.
He is lucky, the boat arrives safely in Europe, which isn't the case for everyone. He contacts another smuggler through social networks in order to get to Belgium, passing through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany by train and bus, but mostly on foot. Adnan finally arrives in Belgium and wants to seek asylum. His journey lasted three months in total and he risked his life on several occasions. With his profile and according to the statistics, he has an almost 90 % chance of receiving the status of subsidiary protection and a residence permit at the end of the procedures that lie ahead of him. However, there will be a long way to go before obtaining this status.