NGO criticises ‘deafening silence’ of Brussels mayors in migrant situation


With people camping in Maximiliaan Park and asylum seekers taking up residence in an empty hotel, the Brussels chapter of Doctors of the World is asking the capital’s mayors to accept some responsibility

‘Repressive policy’

The Brussels chapter of the international NGO Doctors of the World has called on local authorities to show more humanity in their treatment of refugees and other migrants. The organisation specifically pointed to those camped out in Maximiliaan Park near Brussels North Station.

The people camping in the park are awaiting processing at the nearby Immigration Office. Doctors of the World called on the mayors concerned – Bernard Clerfayt of Schaarbeek and Philippe Close of Brussels-City – to take responsibility for the situation.

The two mayors have said that all situations regarding asylum-seekers should be handled at the federal level, specifically by migration secretary Theo Francken. Francken (N-VA) made headlines this week for a Facebook post in which he referred to the detainment of several migrants in Brussels as opkuisen, or “cleaning up”.

According to Doctors of the World, the mayors should take responsibility for their own behaviour in implementing a more humane policy toward migrants on their territories. In recent days, police have been sent to the park (pictured) and at one point confiscated sleeping bags donated by members of the public, which were then destroyed. The police involvement, the NGO says, are a result of a common policy between the federal government and the mayors.

“Maybe the mayor and the social aid agency OCMW in Brussels are secretly working on a solution, which would explain their deafening silence on the matter,” the organisation said in a statement. “The Schaarbeek municipality thinks it a pity that nothing is happening at a federal level to bring dignity to the situation, yet nevertheless co-operates with that severely repressive policy.”

In related news, the empty Hotel Astrid in the centre of Brussels has been taken over by some 80 asylum-seekers. They were previously living in an empty building in Etterbeek, but that was declared unfit to inhabit, and they had to leave.

Most of the asylum-seekers have been turned down for residency and have collectively asked Francken to reconsider their cases.

Photo: Laurie Dieffembacq/BELGA