November 3, 2016 / 6:11 PM / 3 years ago

Belgian minister says prefers to pay fine than grant visas to Syrian family

Belgium's Asylum and Migration State Secretary Theo Francken visits a military barrack used as an accommodation centre for refugees in Namur, Belgium, September 24, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium’s immigration minister has said he is ready to sell off his office furniture to pay daily fines rather than honour a court order to issue tourist visas to a Syrian family from war-battered Aleppo.

Theo Francken’s antics on Facebook, where he posted a photo of himself pretending to work in a bare attic after bailiffs delivered the court order, have angered lawyers for the family, which wants to escape Aleppo where fighting has grown intense.

“He is placing himself above the law,” counsel Thomas Mitevoy told DH newspaper on Thursday after the Flemish nationalist politician joked he would let bailiffs empty his office rather than pay the 4,000 euros (£3,570) a day which his ministry was ordered to pay until it issues the four visas.

Offered accommodation in Belgium by a local family whom he had come to know, a Syrian man reached Lebanon from Aleppo and applied at the Belgian consulate there for a short-stay visa for himself, his wife and two children. When it was refused, the would-be Belgian hosts appealed to a local court and won.

Francken, however, said allowing a Syrian family to come through the normal tourist visa application procedure would set off a flood of similar requests and is appealing the ruling.

“We have managed the asylum crisis well and things are under control. We are really not going to throw our gates open wide through our embassies and consulates,” Francken told reporters.

Belgium, with a population of 11 million, had some 7,500 asylum requests from Syrians last year, when large numbers of people sought refuge in Europe by risking dangerous sea crossings from Turkey to the Greek islands.

Lawyers for the Syrian family at the heart of the row with Francken say they do not want to pay smugglers and take risks but to travel legally.

Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Gareth Jones

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