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11 August 2020 – Belgium

Migrants Left Homeless at the Maximilien Parc in Brussels, (Plateforme Citoyenne de Soutien aux Réfugiés, L. Carretero,
Migrants Left Homeless at the Maximilien Parc in Brussels, (Plateforme Citoyenne de Soutien aux Réfugiés, L. Carretero, "Coronavirus: en Belgique, l'Etat Ne Fait Rien Pour Protéger les Migrants," InfoMigrants, 31 March 2020,

According to an international organisation official who asked to remain anonymous, but whose identity was verified by the GDP, while no moratorium on new immigration detention orders was established, fewer detention orders have been issued since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Director-General of the Immigration Office (IO) and the Minister for Asylum and Migration both reported in June that they expect the number of persons in detention to rise again, depending upon the evolution of the pandemic and the capacity in the centres (see the 27 March Belgium update on this platform).

As previously reported on this platform (see 6 May Belgium update), some immigration detainees have been released from detention. On 9 June, it was reported in the Parliament’s Commission for Home Affairs (and Migration) that about half of the people in detention had been released since the beginning of the health crisis. In mid-March, some 300 persons out of the 630 persons who were in detention were released so as to make space in the detention centres and be able to better implement social distancing. On 17 June, 202 people remained in immigration detention in Belgium. Persons to be released are evaluated on a case-by-case basis and are released when there is no legal basis to keep them in detention. In Belgium, detention is only possible for a limited period of time and under the condition that the Immigration Office is able to remove them, an outcome hampered by border closures and limited air traffic.

According to the source, no specific measures have been implemented by authorities for people released from detention. Thus, those released may reside with family or acquaintances or, in some cases, be left homeless. People released from detention and who are still entitled to shelter/reception facilities, can present themselves at the information desk of the Immigration Office to be reintegrated into the reception network.

The source also reported that immigration detainees were being tested for Covid-19. As reported on 9 June by the Director General of the IO and confirmed on 17 June by the Minister for Asylum and Migration, no detainees had tested positive for Covid-19, but 3-4 staff members tested positive. However, detainees already present in detention centres at the start of the health crisis were not systematically tested. In cases of suspected infection, detainees are placed in medical isolation as a precautionary measure. All new arrivals at a detention centre are tested upon arrival, in line with the guidelines set by the Risk Management Group regarding testing protocols for people residing in collective residence. Despite the police requesting systematic Covid-19 testing of detainees for fear of infection, persons who are released from detention and about to be removed are not tested.

According to the source, removals have not been suspended during the Covid-19 crisis (see the 6 May Belgium update on this platform for related information). The Director General of the IO nonetheless reported that “removal capacity” has been limited because of the health crisis. According to statistics released by the IO, fewer persons were forcibly removed from the country during the crisis: 239 in March; 22 in April; 28 in May; and 72 in June. Most of the returns were to countries of origin and others took place in application of the Dublin Regulation, which resumed on 22 June. Removals took place to Brazil; Rwanda; Ukraine; Bulgaria; Romania; the UK; the Netherlands; France; Ireland; and Italy.

Also, the number of refusals of entry at the Belgian border have decreased compared to the months before the crisis. In January 214 people were refused entry into Belgium; 190 were refused in February; and 111 in March. However, in April, only 5 people were refused entry; 1 in May and 6 in June.

Between 18 March and 31 May, 5,421 orders to leave the territory were issued. Yet, where leaving the country is impossible due to the pandemic, there is a possibility to request an extension of the order.

Furthermore, the source reported that applicants for international protection must now be done online, by filling out an online form and uploading copies of documents. Following this, an invitation for a first interview will be sent to the person. In order to avoid having too many people at the same time for these interviews, there is a waiting list. Applicants for international protection have to wait for the first interview before receiving accommodation.

As regards Belgium’s borders, non-essential travels to Belgium from EU countries were not allowed until 15 June. Non-essential travel to Belgium from countries outside the EU are not permitted until 31 August as provided by the Ministerial Decree of 30 June. In addition, people in need of international protection or travelling for humanitarian reasons are considered as having an ‘essential need’ and are, in theory, allowed to travel to Belgium. Belgian authorities continue to carry out active checks and several border crossings remain closed.