Press Release

Visit Filippo Grandi the UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), met today with Sammy Mahdi, State Secretary for Asylum and Migration. In that conversation, the urgent need for the EU Pact on Asylum and Migration was stressed. A pact that provides for clear screenings at the external borders combined with an organised solidarity mechanism, as well as predictability around disembarkation and enhanced state-led search and rescue, amongst other points. The arrivals of refugees and migrants by sea to Europe and the accidents of the past few days once again make it clear today that it is no longer 5 minutes to midnight, but well past midnight.


In the afternoon, Grandi visited the arrival centre in Petit-Château in Brussels to see how Belgium organizes the registration and initial reception of asylum-seekers in times of COVID.


Sammy Mahdi: "This visit is a real boost for Belgium. Even in COVID times we were able to manage the reception (of asylum seekers) and put an end to the chaos at the door of the Petit-Château centre. There are no more long queues at the centre and we’ve set up a well-functioning registration system. Everyone has the right to apply for asylum, not everyone is entitled to asylum and I, as State Secretary, certainly do not have the right to be just a passive observer.”


Filippo Grandi: During my time here, and by talking to refugees and asylum seekers, I have seen first-hand Belgium’s pragmatic and principled approach to asylum.  Belgium has shown that protection during a pandemic is possible. It sets an example for others to follow through its individualised identification and registration processes, as I have witnessed today at Petit Chateau.


The crucial function of the arrival centre is clear. Both Fedasil and the Aliens Office are present in the arrival centre. Fedasil is responsible for reception, and the Aliens Office for the registration of the asylum application and the first interview.


The immediate, correct dispatch of asylum-seekers to reception centres adapted to their needs is key. Registration, medical examination, and fingerprinting must also be carried out quickly.

People who are entitled to international protection should be granted this accordingly. Those who are not should be returned in line with international law and standards.


Additional staff is foreseen to make the overall process more agile, including by assessing whether specialised reception is necessary for certain people. In the case of unaccompanied minors, the right supervision must help prevent them from disappearing into the network of smugglers and traffickers.


Grandi is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Our country cooperates with UNHCR, among other partners, in resettlement operations.