Belgium’s immigration minister has accused bailiffs of removing his office furniture after he failed to pay a court-imposed fine for refusing to grant asylum to a Syrian family.
The family, who live in the war-ravaged Syrian city of Aleppo, have three times been granted visas by a tribunal.
They have been offered food and lodging by friends in Namur (Namen).
But Theo Francken argues the family’s links to Belgium are weak and he will not open the door to “asylum chaos”.
The minister has refused to pay fines of €4,000 (£3,600 ; $4,450) per day – a total bill now said to have surpassed €30,000.
He was visited by bailiffs on Monday and posted a picture of an empty party office on Facebook on Wednesday.
“With or without furniture we carry on working,” he said. “My team and I can always request political asylum anyway in the office of my good colleague and friend, (Interior Minister) Jan Jambon”, he joked.
The family seeking asylum includes two children of five and eight and has the support of a Belgian family who have promised to pay for all their costs.
The family of four live in Aleppo, which has seen years of bombardment and fighting between the government and rebels, and their home is said to have been destroyed.
The father left the city in August to travel to Beirut in neighbouring Lebanon to apply for asylum at the Belgian consulate. Reports said he did not want to subject his family to the risk of people smugglers and a dangerous Mediterranean crossing.
“The (court) has said their situation is exceptional,” said their lawyer, Mieke Van den Broeck. “This is really urgent for us: the situation in Aleppo is getting worse. There’s an offensive under way, and we’ve lost contact with our clients.”
The lawyer accused Mr Francken of trampling on Belgium’s separation of judicial and government powers underfoot. “He’s actually playing with our clients’ lives and with Belgian tax money.”
But Mr Francken, who is a member of the centre-right New Flemish Alliance, countered that the family should have applied for refuge in Lebanon itself, and that courts should not set asylum policy.
“I am elected to serve the public interest and will continue to do so,” Mr Francken said, insisting that Belgium had already welcomed refugees but did not support granting the family a home in this case.
If he did let the family in, he argued, then he would have to send every Syrian a three-month visa, even if they had no connection with Belgium.
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