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Belgium army steps in as asylum system overwhelmed

The Belgian army will create 750 temporary places for asylum-seekers in barracks to ease the country’s overcrowded reception system, the defence ministry and asylum and migration authority said Wednesday.

The shelters will be set up “in hangars, with mobile sanitary facilities if necessary”, a defence ministry statement said.

“A container village” with 750 places is planned “in a second phase”, it added.

“It is very important that it can be built as quickly as possible so that the temporary emergency reception in the defence hangars is as short as possible.”

Belgium currently has 31,000 places for asylum-seekers, with a 95 percent occupancy rate meaning that centres are largely full, according to a spokesman for Fedasil, the agency responsible for the reception of asylum-seekers.

It is not the first time in this crisis that the government has called on the military to help.

The army “is already making available nearly 6,000 reception places, or 20 percent of the total capacity of our country,” Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder said.

“The intervention of the defence forces should be as short as possible so as not to compromise the functioning and reconstruction of this department,” she said.

In a later phase, the building board — the manager of the federal government estate — will be charged with finding infrastructure to bring about a “structural solution” to accommodate families and replace the container village, it said.

The government is also trying to free up places in the reception network by speeding up the exit of people who work and “can manage on their own”, said the new secretary of state for asylum and migration, Nicole de Moor.

She also noted that “more than 50 percent of asylum applications” filed in Belgium correspond to applications already filed in other EU countries.

“The pressure of asylum becomes enormous in our country if asylum-seekers do not return to their first country of arrival in the EU,” she said, adding that a “specialised centre” would be set up to handle returns.