Europe

Brussels to force homeless into shelters during cold snap

two homeless men during a visit of a team of the Red Cross that searches the streets of Brussels for homeless people, on February 1, 2012. Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption There are fears for homeless people in Belgium as a sub-zero cold snap looms

Homeless people in Brussels could be detained overnight if they refuse shelter, as extremely low temperatures grip the Belgian capital.

At the weekend police in the Etterbeek suburb were asked to remove people from the street for their own protection.

The mayor of Brussels later issued a similar order in the city centre.

Like much of Europe, the city is going through a bitter cold spell and temperatures could fall to as low as -10C (14F) in the coming days.

Etterbeek Mayor Vincent De Wolf said people would be forced into shelters only "in cases of absolute necessity".

"The homeless who would stay outside in these conditions may fall into hypothermia and even die of cold," he said.

The aim of the order was "to protect homeless people who would put themselves in danger by refusing accommodation", he added.

Each homeless person will be taken to a heated room and seen by a doctor, who will then advise on whether they can safely return to the streets.

The order will be in force from 20:00 to 07:00 until 8 March. If the cold weather persists, it could be extended for longer.

After announcing a similar decision, Brussels mayor Philippe Close said he had asked police to focus especially on children who could be sleeping rough.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption The police order will be in place until 8 March, but could be extended

Activists believe there are over 3,000 homeless people in the Brussels region, according to Reuters news agency.

The non-profit group l'Ilot, which provides shelters and other support for the homeless, said it supported the new policy.

"Let's hope this help is maintained all year long," it tweeted.

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