For Central Americans, Fleeing to Europe May Beat Trying to Reach U.S.
“We have a solid system: We give the status and protection to those who need it, independent of other factors, even if we know, or even if it can be, that this could attract more migrants,” Mr. Van den Bulck said.
The Belgian authorities gave refugee status to 281 of the 288 Salvadoran asylum seekers whose cases were processed last year, according to the country’s office for refugees and stateless persons.
Most Central Americans heading for Europe, however, do not apply for asylum protection, instead overstaying their tourist visas — generally in Spain or Italy. There are no official figures on how many immigrate in this way, but some estimates say the number is many thousands higher than those applying through official routes.
Officials watch the asylum requests closely, as an increase in applications from one region can delay those from others.
“For now, Central America is not a region of particular concern, but the increasing number of asylum seekers from the region has been flagged,” said Anis Cassar, a spokesman for the European Asylum Support Office, an agency of the European Union. “It’s on the radar.”
In a refugee center in central Belgium, four members of the Marroquín family share a room. They have access to a cafeteria and bathroom facilities. Ms. Marroquín said the major challenge was boredom, but she believes families are treated well. To distract herself, she said, she often goes to her other son’s home in nearby Enghien to cook traditional Salvadoran dishes, using the bags of corn and rice flour she brought in her suitcases.
Ms. Marroquín said that most of the rest of her family lived in the United States, but she expressed satisfaction with her decision to come to Belgium, adding that she felt her son David was now safe. She said she expected others to take the same path.
“More are going to come here,” she said.