For several months about 700 asylum seekers have been trying to survive in an abandoned building in the centre of Brussels where they took shelter due to the drop in temperatures in Belgium.
The refugees, mostly from Afghanistan, Morocco, Algeria, Syria, Eritrea and Somalia have been staying in the seven-story building on Paleis Street despite the risks of various diseases.
Belgium has been grappling with a crisis concerning the lack of shelter for asylum seekers for more than one year.
According to Article 3 of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, the contracting state must provide shelter and reasonable material conditions to those who applied for asylum in their country.
However, Belgium is not fulfilling its obligation, citing that the refugee reception centres are full.
One of the asylum seekers Hitimana Jean de Dieu, 41, from Burundi stated that he is a priest and he immigrated to Belgium due to the unfavourable security conditions in his country.
Hundreds of refugees line up almost every morning in front of the headquarters of the Belgian Federal Asylum Seeker Reception Agency (Fedasil) in Brussels. It received more than 4,000 asylums in September.
Lengthy lines can be seen outside the Petit Chateau, where the offices of Fedasil are located in Brussels, the EU capital.
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Applications of a few people are received while the rest are removed by the police.
"We need international protection only. I don't know if they give us a centre today or tomorrow. It is in the hand of the government," de Dieu said.
Twenty-seven-year-old Afghan asylum seeker Irfanullah Raheemi said he applied for asylum two months ago and that he was given an interview date for 18 January 2023, but was not given a place to stay.
Raheemi said they "have no blanket, no health services, no good water. For each, we travel so far here. And most of these things are given us by the people."
"We request the government to give us a place and make the procedure faster. So, the people, the refugees get documented as soon as possible and also opportunities of work, they also are part of a normal society," he added.
Another Afghan refugee, Fawad Safi who was left homeless for months despite promises from authorities, said that many of the Afghan asylum seekers were military officers in Afghanistan during the pre-Taliban era.
Safi has similar complaints about the situation in the derelict building and the Fedasil.
"You see here, they don't give us shelter. When I ask them they just told me they gave me some paper to check our slip and hospital. So identify who you are and everything. So, this is a big problem for us," he said.
While refugees from Asia and Africa received a cold response, Belgium fast-tracked the applications of Ukrainians – subsequently giving them the right to residency and work permits, as well as access to social welfare and housing.
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