New surge in asylum seekers
23,000 asylum seekers filed an application in Belgium last year. The figure is up on the year, but still under the record set during the asylum crisis in 2015. Unfortunately, fewer dossiers were processed last year meaning asylum seekers had to wait longer to hear the outcome of their application.
The largest group of asylum seekers are people from Syria. There is also a large group of Palestinians. Until last year they were virtually all given protection, but “the situation in Gaza has changed” explains Dirk Van Den Bulck, the Belgian commissioner-general for refugees and stateless persons. “For some considerable time it wasn’t possible to return Palestinians to their country because they are not given access to Gaza. This has changed. In most cases involving Palestinians the office of the commissioner-general now rules that they fled for economic reasons. Then there is no need for protection and they must be returned.”
The number of applicants receiving protection at the end of the process has dropped to 37%. In recent years the figure has always been above 50%. There is a simple explanation for the fall. Dirk Van Den Bulck: “Last year we focused on asylum seekers who had already made an earlier application: people who were turned down but also people who were recognised elsewhere. In the vast majority of such cases the office rules that the case cannot be considered. Such applicants are turned down.”
Asylum seekers from Syria, Eritrea, Turkey and Burundi making a first application stand a good chance of getting a favourable decision. For Iraqis and Afghans chances are lower and depend on their region of origin.
Staff cuts at the office mean fewer cases are being processed and it can take longer to deal with cases. This trend is now set to reverse after acting asylum secretary De Block decided more staff could be recruited.