Mr Madhi is keen to stress that the decision not to proceed with the plans is not related to an arson attack on the building where the asylum centre was to be housed in November 2019. “The arsonists will not win”, Mr Madhi said. Rather than an asylum centre, extra small-scale local initiatives for the reception of asylum-seekers will be set up instead.
On the night of 10 November 2019, the building that was to have housed the asylum centre in Bilzen was badly damaged in an arson attack. A criminal investigation into the attack is still ongoing. In the meantime, the need for extra capacity for the reception of asylum seekers has diminished and what would be an expensive centre at Bilzen has become surplus to requirements.
Mr Madhi told journalists that "I have a great deal of respect for the owners of the building. The amount of hateful messages and threats that they have received is unacceptable. Hopefully the investigation will soon bring clarity. In the meantime, we will provide local reception facilities for refugees, including in Bilzen”.
Mr Mahdi added that he wants to consult more with local authorities in order to improve policy on the reception of asylum seekers.
The Mayor of Bilzen Johan Sauwens (Christian democrat) told journalists "What happened in Bilzen may not happen again. We are a hospitable town, and we want to organise local initiatives. Despite everyone’s efforts things went very wrong here. Those responsible must be punished”.