Planned Refugee Center Burned Down in Belgium
Controversial asylum center in Bilzen was likely torched, investigators believe
A building that was planned to be converted into a controversial refugee center in Bilzen, Belgium, was burned down in a huge fire on Sunday.
The building has been the focus of protest over weeks and months after local officials approved plans to convert it into an asylum center to welcome foreign migrants.
Investigators believe the massive blaze, which severely damaged the building, was the result of arson.
Many are now questioning whether it was started due to strong opposition to the proposed migrant center that would occupy the premises.
Weeks before the fire broke out, intense protests had taken place– led by the national populist Vlaams Belang – against the asylum center being established in the neighborhood.
“There were no casualties,” fire brigade captain Frank Parthoens told Belgian daily newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws.
“We had the fire under control relatively quickly," Parthoens added.
"Now there are mainly fire extinguishers to extinguish the roof structure.”
A police spokesperson said in a statement: “There are material indications that it is definitely a matter of arson.”
“There are one or more offenders. The investigation has been in full swing since last night.”
Johan Sauwens, the mayor of Bilzen, also revealed that evidence of burglary was discovered in the building.
Previously, Migration Minister Maggie De Block had set plans in motion to convert the building into a center for asylum seekers in mid-December.
The move was triggered due to migrant centers across the country overflowing.
Due to a relentless flood of new migrants, Fedasil – Belgium’s government agency responsible for the admission of asylum seekers – has been scrambling to open new centers for the refugees.
The Red Cross says it’s “working with Fedasil to provide an answer to the growing need for reception places in our country, which is due to a longer asylum procedure, which means that the outflow of the number of asylum seekers is very low.”
“As a result, hundreds of new reception places are needed every month to provide everyone with shelter and basic necessities such as meals, sanitation, and clothing,” the organization adds.
Last month, a former floating prison was reported to be reopening as a reception center for "asylum seekers" in Ghent, Belgium.
The asylum camp is expected to open sometime in early December to tackle the influx of new migrants.