This asylum seeker holds herself apart from the group at St. Mary's school in Brussels, Belgium. She and other asylum seekers were sheltering at the school while they waited - often for days - to put in their asylum application at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A mid-January date for changes in some of the country's asylum provisions (notably replacement of monetary assistance by assistance in kind for applicants) prompted a significant increase in asylum seekers in the weeks before the deadline.
Yet the Belgian government was unprepared to deal with high number of requests. While officials processed only 250 applications a day, thousands of people were left outside in bad weather or in makeshift tents, or transported to temporary shelter in Belgian military camps.
MSF denounced the government's inaction and inefficiency in the face of overwhelming demand.
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MSF tried to ease the daily difficulty of the asylum seekers by providing first aid and basic goods (food and blankets) to many thousands of people who came to the foreign ministry to apply for asylum. At the peak of the crisis, MSF opened its own office to 70 refugees who stayed overnight for three or four days. MSF continues to push for just and equitable treatment of people seeking asylum in the country. See page 6 for information on MSF advocacy on asylum and immigration-related issues in Europe.
In other work, several clinics continue to serve disadvantaged people in Brussels, Verviers, Liege, and Antwerp. In early 2001, this project began to explore ways to improve referrals for people in need of mental health assistance. In Brussels, MSF also offers free and anonymous HIV testing, with psychological help and follow-up.
The "Mpore" project, which began in 1999, offers psychological assistance to Rwandans traumatized by the Rwandan genocide of 1994.