MEPs pressure Belgium on Afghan asylum seekers in Brussels
Two MEPs are seeking parliament-wide support to pressure the Belgian government not to expel Afghans living rough in a Brussels-city-centre church.
The head of the parliament’s leftist GUE group, Gabi Zimmer, along with Portuguese MEP Alda Sousa from the same faction, announced on Thursday (23 January) they would circulate a letter among euro-deputies to denounce Belgium’s treatment of the asylum seekers.
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“We are asking the Belgian government not to send them back to Afghanistan because it is not safe. We are demanding the government to change its position,” she said.
The MEPs want deputies from all the political groups to sign before sending the letter off to the Belgian minister of interior.
For the past two months, some 200 Afghans have been living it rough at the 17th century Beguinage Church in central Brussels.
Pews are pushed aside to make room for tents in an effort to keep the families warm throughout the winter months. The children are not being schooled.
Most are Sikhs and Hindus, who are persecuted for their religious beliefs in Afghanistan.
Thirty-year old Singh Ajmit brought his family in from Ghazni, a city in eastern Afghanistan, to Belgium after paying smugglers some $50,000. They flew in from Pakistan about three years ago.
“For many families, it’s [Belgium] a dead end,” he told this website. Many others in Afghanistan, he said, left for the UK because the Sikh community is more established in Britian.
Asked if it was worth the smuggling fee, he said his wife and mother are now safe.
Belgian authorities want the men, without families, to return voluntarily. All have refused with around a dozen from the group already expelled to Afghanistan last year.
A lawyer representing the group said the Belgian state recognises the inherit dangers in Afghanistan but says it argues that violence is primarily directed against foreign bodies and not civilians.
Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo met an Afghan delegation from the church on Christmas Eve last year, but refused their demand to remain on Belgian territory.
“What was the result of that? Not much,” said Fred Mawet, director of the Brussels-based NGO for migrants rights, CIRE.
Instead, the Belgian authorities requested they reintroduce their asylum claims.
“We think this path will lead to few real solutions,” said Mawet.
Some have already received negative responses.
Around 3 million Afghan refugees are in Pakistan. Last year, just over 1,300 asked for asylum in Belgium. Of those, just over half received some sort of protection status.
Around 20,000 asked for asylum throughout the whole of the EU, according to the EU statistical office Eurostat.
Tens of thousands of refugees are hoping to find safety in Europe but member states are reluctant hosts. Most of Syria’s 2.3 million war-torn refugees are found in overcrowded camps in neighbouring countries.
The EU, for its part, has offered member states €6,000 for each refugee they resettle but member states have agreed to resettle 12,000.
The overall broader treatment of migrants and the refugees in Europe is viewed by some aid organisations as an erosion of the EU’s own stated commitments to human rights.
Amnesty international’s secretary general Salil Shetty told EUobserver earlier this week that human rights in Europe in recent years are being neglected.
“If the EU doesn’t set its own house in order, I think it loses credibility and legitimacy to speak about the external world,” he said.