Belgium’s junior minister for immigration Theo Francken was widely criticised on Tuesday for saying migrants had enough money to pay for hotel rooms.
Europe has seen a huge influx of migrants from the Middle East and Africa trying to escape poverty and violence at home and the issue has shot to international prominence as thousands try to make their way to Britain from the French port of Calais.
The European Commission is under pressure to find a solution to the crisis and to support countries – Greece and Italy in particular – that have already received hundreds of thousands.
Some 2,300 people requested asylum in Belgium in June alone, up by a third from May, official figures show. The Belgian government has offered housing for 2,500 extra applicants.
Asked about media reports that migrants were forced to sleep on the streets because accommodation was not immediately available, junior minister Theo Francken, responsible for asylum and migration, said it was wrong to think of them as poor.
“Many of these people pay 10,000 euros ($11,000) to get here. It’s naive to say they have not 50 euros for a hotel room. It’s a caricature to see them as completely penniless,” he told state broadcaster Radio 1.
Francken’s remarks drew a chorus of criticism on social media and also from aid organisations.
“I think the comments are cynical and completely off topic,” said a spokeswoman for Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, an organisation working with asylum seekers.
“It’s not about whether they still have some cash left, it’s about whether the government has made sufficient resources available to support the people who are here,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Francken, asked about the criticism of his comments, said the ministry “continued working on solutions” and would not comment beyond what was said on the radio.