Photo: Credit Facebook Sammy Mahdi,
By Charlotte Oberti
In Belgium, 32-year-old Sammy Mahdi, the son of an Iraqi refugee, has just been appointed Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration. He said his goal is to increase deportations. After an extended political crisis that lasted 493 days, Belgium finally formed a government on Wednesday, September 30. Among the new members of the cabinet, 32-year-old Sammy Mahdi was appointed Secretary for Asylum and Migration. Mahdi is the son of an Iraqi refugee who arrived in Belgium in 1970.
Mahdi, “mostly centre-right,” according to his own definition, now finds himself in control of a situation that has worsened in the country in recent months, particularly in terms of accommodation conditions for asylum seekers. The young politician seems determined to show firmness, particularly with regard to the expulsion of foreigners, which he considers too few in number.
A member of the Flemish Christian Democrat party and a former assistant to a member of the Flemish parliament, Mahdi, who claims to be outspoken and ironically calls himself “Barack Obama” on his Twitter account, said that only “18% of asylum seekers” in Belgium whose applications have been rejected are deported, “compared to 35% in Germany. It is our ambition to increase these deportations,” he said.
An increase in the number of ‘closed centers’
True to his word, Sammy Mahdi affirmed that, from Sunday, there would be an increase in “closed centers” in the country. “We will ensure, if necessary, that people who have been told at the end of their asylum procedure that they cannot stay will be expelled from the country via closed centers,” he told the Flemish television channel VTM.
Between 120,000 and 150,000 undocumented migrants are currently in Belgium, according to the group Citizen’s Platform for the Support of Refugees. The organization contends that the situation of these migrants necessitates better material care for people, with more accommodation and access to healthcare, as well as a circumvention of the Dublin regulation to allow migrants from Sudan and Eritrea, the majority of asylum seekers in Belgium, to be able to successfully complete their asylum procedures in the country.
“Mahdi will not be less strict than Theo Francken [a member of the Flemish nationalist party N-VA who previously held the position and who pushed to prevent migrants from having the slightest access to European territory] on this issue,” Nicolas Bouteca, political scientist at the University of Ghent, wrote in the newspaper L’Echo. “The style will, however, be very different”.
‘With head and heart’
Mahdi has already proven that he can be confrontational. In November 2017, then president of the Young CD&V (Christian Democrats and Flemish) and a regular contributor to the media, he published an open letter to the “little rascal” from another country who “spoils everything for everyone”. The letter came in the wake of looting and destruction in the center of Brussels after a soccer match between Morocco and the Ivory Coast that triggered a debate over the lack of integration of young people from immigrant backgrounds.
“Many people of foreign origin who have turned their frustrations into a strength to pursue positive endeavors are fed up with you,” he wrote. But Mahdi also wants to reassure, and says that he will implement a balanced policy, conceived “with the head and the heart. I want to ensure that we have a correct immigration policy that sends people back who should be sent back because they have no right to be here and, at the same time, a policy that is humane, so that it helps people and shows our solidarity with everyone,” he said in an interview with RTL Info shortly after his appointment.
For his part, Medhi Kassou, spokesperson for the Citizens’ Platform, is waiting to begin a dialogue with the new Secretary of State before making up his mind. “I sincerely hope that his immigration profile will bring him some sensitivity [on these issues] and that dialogue will be made easier,” he said. “But we will be critical of him if he pursues a policy of isolation and rejection.”