Material or financial aid?
Since the adoption of the Reception Act, the system of reception conditions for asylum seekers has shifted completely from financial assistance to purely material assistance. This includes accommodation, food, clothing, medical, social and psychological help, access to interpretation services and legal representation, access to training, a voluntary return programme, and a small daily allowance (so-called pocket money). Nevertheless, as discussed below, the help can be partially delivered in cash, as is the case in the Local Reception Initiatives (LRI). The Federal Agency coordinates the whole reception structure for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, Fedasil. Fedasil regularly issues internal instructions on implementing specific rights provided for in the Reception Act, as referred to throughout this report.
Only in exceptional cases the social welfare services provided by the PCSW deliver financial aid to asylum seekers. For example, this could be the case when the asylum seeker wants to live with their partner who already has a legal stay in Belgium. However, this is only exceptional and can only be the case after the explicit permission of Fedasil. To obtain this permission, the asylum seeker should ask for an abrogation of the designated reception place (“Code 207”).
In the context of the reception crisis, destitute applicants for international protection start appeal procedures at Labour Courts based on the violation of the right to reception. In some cases, destitute applicants have asked the Labour Court to suspend this code 207. In several judgements, the Court condemned Fedasil and forced them in first instance to provide a reception place. If the reception place is not provided, the Court orders the suspension of the code 207 in second instance. With this suspension, the destitute applicant can go to the PCSW and apply for financial aid. In practice, it still remains difficult for someone with a suspended code 207 to obtain this financial aid as most PCSW’s require a fixed residency.
Collective or individual?
The reception model, of which the implementation started in 2016, generally assigns people to collective reception centres. Only asylum seekers with very specific vulnerabilities or reception needs are directly assigned to specialised NGO reception structures or LRI. In collective centres, most conditions are delivered in-kind.
For the assignment to a specific centre, Fedasil should legally consider the centre’s occupation rate, the asylum seeker’s family situation, age, health condition, vulnerability and the procedural language of his or her asylum case. There are no monitoring or evaluation reports about the effective assessment of all these elements in practice. Albeit legally binding criteria, these do not seem to always be taken into consideration. In theory, an asylum seeker or his or her social assistants can ask to change centre at any given time during the procedure, based on these criteria. Fedasil itself can also decide to change the location of reception, based on these criteria. Currently, the possibilities to change centre on the asylum seeker’s request are limited to the situations enlisted by Fedasil in its internal instructions (see below Transfers to suitable reception ).
According to the law, all asylum seekers can apply to be transferred to an individual accommodation structure after 6 months in a collective centre. Where the person’s asylum application has already been refused at first instance procedure by the CGRS, the transfer will be refused or postponed. However, due to the high occupancy rate of the reception system, transfer applications of applicants whose procedure is still ongoing cannot systematically be answered favourably either. This means that asylum seekers stay much longer in collective structures (see Conditions in Reception Facilities).
Specific rules concerning transfer to individual reception structures apply to the following categories:
- Persons with a high chance of recognition (nationality with recognition rate above 80%) who are still awaiting a decision of the CGRS can ask to be assigned to LRI after a 2-month stay in collective reception centres. At the time of writing nationals of the following countries had a high chance of recognition:
- Persons staying in collective structures when granted a legal stay of more than 3 months, for example, the refugee, will be presented the choice between moving to an individual reception structure for 2 months or leaving the collective structure within 10 working days. In this case, they will receive meal vouchers for one month.
The Court of Auditors (Rekenhof / Cour des comptes) conducted a financial and qualitative audit of the functioning of Fedasil in 2017. It found that the average duration of stay in collective reception centres was too long and that refusals to transfer asylum seekers after 6 months not only has negative consequences to the well-being and psychological health of the individuals concerned but also for the management and personnel of centres, as it causes tensions and conflicts. The Court of Auditors also found that reception in collective centres is more expensive than individual accommodation, although many more individual accommodation places were empty at the time of the report. It recommended that the government consider other criteria such as cost-effectiveness and quality in prospective closures of reception places. To this end, and according to the Court of Auditors, Fedasil should continue its efforts in developing common quality norms and audit mechanisms, collect more data on duration of stay in the centres, duration of procedures, numbers of transfers, numbers of vulnerable persons and so forth.
NGOs have requested for an evaluation of the current reception model. An evaluation of the reception model was planned in 2021 but due to the sanitary situation related to COVID-19 and the reception crisis, these plans were not yet made concrete.
Fedasil shelters refugees who were resettled for 6 to 8 weeks in a collective reception centre. Afterwards, they will go to an LRI for 6 months maximum. This delay can be prolonged for 2 additional months. During this period, the LRI will help them find their own place to live, which could be in the same commune of the LRI, or in another.
Transfers to suitable reception facilities
Within 30 days after the arrival in the assigned reception place, an evaluation should be made to see if the individual reception needs of the asylum seeker are met. After that, a regular assessment is made – at least every six months – during the entire stay of the asylum seeker in the reception system. The Reception Act allows changing an asylum seeker’s reception place if the assigned place turns out to be not adapted to the individual needs.
In two instructions, Fedasil enlisted specific criteria to be met before a transfer to another, more adapted place is made possible. The newly assigned place can be located in either a collective reception centre or an individual place. The request to benefit from transfer can be done either by the asylum seeker or by the reception facility in agreement with the asylum seeker, but the actual sending of the request always needs to be done by the reception facility.
A transfer based on medical reasons can be requested if the place is not adapted to the medical needs of the asylum seeker. This includes when the asylum seeker:
- has a severe handicap which is incompatible with the assigned place;
- has limited mobility and there is no possibility to adapt the infrastructure or to get help from family members;
- has a severe pathology which requires having a hospital nearby;
- loses his or her autonomy and has no family member that can help;
- has a specific medical need for his or her own sanitary ;
- needs to live with a very strict diet (e.g. coeliac, no salt etc.);
- is in danger because of certain diseases present in the centre, e.g. has a weak immune system;
- has an addiction and does substitute therapy which necessitates the presence of a pharmacy close-by;
- has psychiatric problems which are not compatible with the everyday life of a collective reception centre;
- needs to support a first-degree family member who is in the hospital;
- is in need of continuous care and needs to be transferred to a care institution.
A transfer based on other grounds than medical reasons can be requested if it is not possible to adapt the assigned place to the individual needs of the asylum seeker and if he/she meets one of the following criteria:
- Language of the school of the children: his/her children went to school in a region speaking a different language for at least three months or they have gained sufficient knowledge of that other language to be able to be taught in that language;
- A close family member (e.g. partner or minor children) lives in another reception centre on the Belgian territory. The term “family member” can be broadened if the asylum seeker is categorised as vulnerable;
- Employment: the asylum seekers has been employed (at least a half-time position and not a student job) for at least one month and has paid contributions. He or she should not have been excluded from shelter;
- Training or education: the asylum seeker has subscribed to higher education or to a training provided by VDAB or Forem;
- The asylum seeker feels isolated because he or she is the only person in the centre belonging to a certain nationality, or he or she is the only one speaking a certain language, which clearly impacts their psychological wellbeing.
Fedasil considers the asylum seeker’s procedural situation when deciding on such requests. Decisions refusing a transfer can be challenged in front of the Labour Court within 3 months.
All asylum seekers receive a fixed daily amount of pocket money in cash, so those who reside in collective reception centres as well. In 2023 adults and all children from 12 years on who attend school receive 9.50€ a week, younger children and children 12 years of age or older who do not attend school receive 5.6€ a week, and unaccompanied children during the first phase of shelter (in the “observation and orientation centres”) receive 6.8€ a week.
Allowances in individual reception facilities (NGO or LRI)
Asylum seekers in NGOs or LRI all receive a weekly amount in cash or in meal vouchers, to provide for material needs autonomously; this also includes the pocket money. For 2022, the amounts vary according to the family composition and the internal organisation of accommodation. These amounts are as follows on a monthly (4-week) basis:
|Category of applicant||Allowance in LRI with food provided||Allowance in LRI with no food provided|
|Additional child <3 years||92-116€||124-136€|
|Additional child 3-12 years||48-60€||68-76€|
|Additional child 12-18 years||60-68€||76-84€|
|Single-parent extra allowance||24-32€||32-40€|
Besides this, the organising authority of the accommodation remains in charge of certain material needs such as transport, clothing, school costs, interpreters, etc. Since these LRI have a lot of autonomy as regards the way they are organised, they can choose if and how they distribute material aid themselves. This means that asylum seekers might exceptionally receive a financial allowance that equals the social welfare benefit (called “social integration”) for nationals, diminished with the rent for the flat or house they are accommodated in and expenses.
Allowances in case of no material reception
If all reception structures are completely saturated and Fedasil decides to not assign a reception place, the asylum seeker has the right to financial aid provided by the PCSW. The applicant would then obtain the full amount of the financial social welfare allowance, equally and in the same way as every national or other legal resident of the country. This is also the case when the obligatory designated reception place (Code 207) is abrogated officially by Fedasil because of exceptional circumstances, for example when Fedasil allows the asylum seeker to live with a partner who already has a legal stay in Belgium. Since 1 January 2023, a person receives following amounts per month:
|Monthly amounts of “social integration” for Belgian nationals|
|Person with family at charge||€1,640.83|
In its February 2014 judgment in Saciri, the CJEU ruled that in case the accommodation facilities are overloaded, asylum seekers may be referred to the PCSW, provided that this system ensures the minimum standards laid down in the Reception Conditions Directive. In particular, the total amount of the financial allowances shall be sufficient to ensure a dignified standard of living and should provide enough to ensure their subsistence. The general assistance should also enable them to find housing, if necessary, meeting the interests of persons having specific needs, pursuant to Article 17 of that Directive.
Nevertheless, since several years, Fedasil has not referred to the PCSW because of a lack of reception capacity. In the context of the reception crisis in 2021 and 2022, the Council of Ministers has discussed this option several times, but it has not been approved politically. As a result of the reception crisis, some destitute applicants have obtained a referral to the PCSW by going to the Labour Courts (see Material or Financial Aid?).
 Article 3 Reception Act.
 Article 13 Reception Act.
 Article 12 Reception Act.
 Information provided by Fedasil.
 Fedasil, Instruction concerning transfers from collective reception to a Local reception Initiative (LRI) – designation of asylum seekers with a high rate of recognition – update, 9 November 2021, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/3vUGADb.
 Meal vouchers are vouchers that can be used in almost any supermarket to buy food or food-related items. Employees (in all kinds of sectors) often receive meal vouchers as part of their salary as well.
 Court of Auditors, Opvang van asielzoekers, October 2017.
 Information provided by Fedasil, February 2022.
 Fedasil, Instructions on the transition from material reception to financial help: measures for residents of collective centres and the accompaniment in transition in the individual structures, 20 July 2016.
 Royal Decree of 25 April 2007 on the modalities of the assessment of the individual situation of the reception beneficiary.
 Article 22 Reception Act
 Fedasil, Instruction on the transfer to an adapted place for medical reasons, 7 May 2018, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/39gg7Ev; Fedasil, Instruction on the transfer to an adapted place for other reasons, 7 May 2018, available in Dutch at: https://bit.ly/2KP79oo
 Article 34 Reception Act.
 Information provided by Fedasil, February 2022.
 Extrapolated from the weekly amount, times 4: Information provided by Fedasil.
 Article 11(4) Reception Act.
 CJEU, Case C-79/13 Federaal agentschap voor de opvang van asielzoekers (Fedasil) v Selver Saciri and OCMW Diest, Judgment of 27 February 2014.