About the reception centres
Belgium has sixty reception centres for asylum seekers. They are managed by Fedasil, the Red Cross or another partners. They are open centres: this means that the residents are free to enter and leave the centre.
The reception centres vary greatly: often these are former military bases, boarding schools or hospitals; sometimes they are newly-built prefab buildings. There are small centres (with 75 beds) and large centres (the centre in Brussels has more than 650 beds). Some are located in the city centre, others in the country. And yet all these centres offer the same services: 'bed, bath and bread', guidance, daily life and neighbourhood associations.
Bed, Bath and Bread
A reception centre provides asylum seekers the material aid to which they are legally entitled. In the first instance, this aid concerns the basic needs of the residents: a place to sleep, meals, sanitary facilities and clothing. A bed in a communal sleeping area is available for single people. Families receive a separate room to the extent possible. The centre provides for the basic needs of the residents
Every asylum seeker has the right to individual social guidance by a social worker. The social worker provides the necessary information about the asylum procedure and discusses, together with the asylum seeker, the consequences of the decision that was taken by the General Commissioner for Refugees and Stateless persons. In addition, the asylum seeker is also assisted by the administrative management of the file, or with enrolment of children in a school.
A lawyer can help an asylum seeker in going through the complicated asylum procedure. This legal assistance is free of charge. The social worker puts the asylum seeker in contact with a lawyer. The asylum seeker can also go to the Office for Legal Assistance of the nearest courthouse.
If an asylum seeker does not know any of the three national languages he can request the assistance of an interpreter in order to communicate better with the social worker or his lawyer.
Medical and psychological assistance
Every asylum seeker is entitled to medical care. There is always a doctor and nursing staff affiliated with the reception structure where the asylum seeker is staying. In addition to medical care, asylum seekers are also entitled to psychological assistance. Many common psychical problems have to do with traumas in their homeland and stress. The doctor at the centre can refer the asylum seeker to a specialized service.
Several activities are organized at the reception centre to offer asylum seekers a meaningful way of passing their time: workshops, courses, library, sports, etc. Most reception centres also have an internet room so that residents can keep in touch with friends and family at home.
Just like all minors in Belgium, children who live in a reception centre are obliged to attend school. They usually go to a school in the neighbourhood of the centre. The choice of school is made in consultation with the parents. If possible, the children first attend an introduction class where their knowledge of languages and their level of education are tested, and they follow adapted lessons. Afterwards they attend lessons in a normal classroom together with other children. At most reception centres, in the evening the children receive assistance with their homework from the staff.
For the first four months after submitting their application, asylum seekers cannot work in Belgium but they may take classes (language courses, cooking classes, IT lessons, and so on). These are organized within as well as outside the reception structure. The teachers may be staff members, but may also be people from outside the reception centre and even other asylum seekers. Some common courses are language classes, sewing lessons, cooking classes and IT classes. The courses are focused on staying in Belgium as well as a possible return.
The residents can carry out different tasks in the reception centre: cleaning the common rooms, serving meals, helping in the cloakroom, etc. They receive a little extra money in addition to their pocket money for these 'community services'.
Only those asylum seekers who have still not received a decision 4 months after submitting their request are allowed to work. In this case, the right to reception and material aid is still valid, but the asylum seeker will have to make a financial contribution if he continues to live in the reception centre.
Each reception centre regularly organizes neighbourhood initiatives. These initiatives are intended to integrate the centre into the community and surrounding area as well as possible.
They concern activities at the reception centre in which asylum seekers and people from outside participate. Sometimes they may also concern projects by the community or local clubs in which asylum seekers are involved. Finally, open-door days or visits are also regularly organized in order to inform people in the neighbourhood about the functioning of the reception centre.
The reception centres put together a newsletter three times per year that all neighbours receive in their letterbox. These newsletters present news about the centre and information about planned activities. Each reception centre also has its own website with news reports and general information.