BRUSSELS (Brussels Morning) – On Saturday morning, approximately 2,000 Ukrainians went to Hall 8, the registration centre of the Immigration Department (DVZ). Due to the large crowd, the gates closed at 10:30 am.
Since Monday, Palace 8 of Brussels Expo on the Heysel plain has been the registration point for Ukrainians who have fled their home country. The registration centre can handle almost two thousand requests per day that turned out to be insufficient on Saturday morning: about 250 people were left out in the cold when the doors closed irrevocably around 10:30 am. “Those people are just waiting here now. They can’t do much more than try again tomorrow,” says Erik Van Wolvaer, volunteer at ‘Solidarity with Ukraine’.
The doors had to be locked early today, according to Freddy Roosemont, the director of the competent Immigration Department (DVZ), at the request of the City of Brussels. “The strategy that has been in place for a few days now is to let in as many people as possible in a few hours, and then close the doors very quickly. Then it is immediately clear that the capacity has been reached and there are fewer families who could be standing in the cold for hours.”
Days in the cold
Whether that was efficient remains to be seen. Roman, a 52-year-old man from Odessa, a port city in southwestern Ukraine, had been waiting there with his wife and three children for three days. Not because the registration procedure was difficult, on the contrary, that procedure had been completed, but because it appeared impossible to arrange transport to the place that was assigned to them, a house in Maldegem. “There is a house that we can go to in Flanders, together with another family. There are twelve of us in total, so we have a lot of luggage with us. How are we supposed to get there?” he asks.
It was now shortly after noon. In the shadow of the Atomium, on the sidewalk at the entrance to Palace 8 were tables with piles of clothes, shoes and blankets on display. A dozen volunteers handed out hot drinks, mainly coffee and tea. “It is especially difficult for these families, they need medical help, but nobody is here to provide it,” said Polish volunteer Julia Turlejska (44), pointing to a group of people in front of the closed doors of the application centre. “They have been waiting here aimlessly in the cold for hours.”
However, according to Freddy Roosement of DVZ, the centre is running at full capacity, “with the resources we now have at hand,” he says. “More is currently not possible, our volunteers at the 42 available counters would not be able to handle that. Starting next week we will expand the capacity again. Then 24 counters will be added and we will be able to welcome up to 3,200 people a day.”