Lemons and water at the Immigration Office

Employees of the federal asylum agency Fedasil are sounding the alarm. They say they can no longer cope with the surging numbers of asylum seekers. The Christian trades union ACV staged a protest action this morning, using lemons to symbolise their position: "We have been squeezed out." They also distributed water and cake to refugees. It seems as if their action didn't fall on deaf ears: just before noon, it was announced that Fedasil will receive 130 extra staff "as soon as possible".

Members of the ACV went to the Immigration Office at the Antwerpsesteenweg in Brussels, where asylum seekers are queuing up every morning. It was just before 8am when they started their action. The doors of the Immigration Office open at 8, but there were already some 300 refugees queuing at that moment.

Trades unionists handed out small bottles of water and cake to those in the queue. Staff and management of the Immigration Office and Fedasil received lemons, because they feel 'squeezed out'.

"We have been receiving 300 people or more on a daily basis, while fire services out the maximum capacity at 200. We had to refuse people again on Monday and Tuesday", says Luc Jacobs of the ACV. The so-called 'dispatch' has been demanding that extra staff be sent long before the immigration crisis started. The federal State Secretary for Asylum, Theo Francken, promised 30 extra staff for the Immigration Office. "Too little, too late", the ACV retorted. The christian union added that "working pressure is enormous and staff are completely exhausted."

"130 new staff, but not tormorrow"

The Communication Manager at Fedasil, Mieke Candaele, told reporters this morning that "we are bending over backwards to hire 130 extra staff as soon as possible" before adding "but we have to be realistic: we can't just hire new people tomorrow. We need a proper application procedure and this takes time."

The staff shortage has also had a bad impact on asylum seekers, who have to wait a long time in poor conditions. Every day, there is the risk that some of them are being refused because the office simply can't cope. Some 50 had to be refused on Monday.