Yesterday saw as many as 265 different applications by asylum seekers to get a residence permit on just one day. If the trend of increasing numbers continues, Belgium will be facing a major shortage in September if nothing is being done. Belgian now boasts a capacity of 18,400 places, but nearly all of these have been taken at present.
The Asylum and Migration Secretary Theo Francken (Flemish nationalist) says that the upward trend started in May, and that it is being confirmed. The federal government is now creating 2,500 extra places in the short run, in army barracks and present reception centres, and also by reopening a centre in Holsbeek. "As a west-European country, we want to guarantee that we have a humane policy, offering people on the run a bath, a bed and bread."
The government had put aside some 80 million for this purpose. The extra places are costing 15 to 20 million every three months.
Some had to spend the night without proper shelter
The influx of asylum seekers - the number for June was 34 per cent up on May - also means that not all applications can be looked at straightaway. The Asylum Office had to send some 50 people back to the streets yesterday as it could not (yet) offer them shelter. They can file an application on Thursday.
This problem is not new, says Francken. It would be too easy to say that the government is putting these people on the street, as some newspapers are reporting today, he adds. "This does not mean they don't have any shelter. They often have friends or family to stay with. And who says they don't have 50 euros for a hotel? They often pay 10,000 euros to come here."
This being said, the Asylum Secretary laments the fact that some end up on the street. "We are looking into this problem. But if it does happen, it is just for one night."
Can Belgium still cope with the rising numbers of immigrants? Mr Francken is firm: "We don't have an asylum crisis."