Belgium

7,105

Immigration detainees

2017

Not Available

Detained asylum seekers

2018

326

Detained children

2017

5

Long-term centres

2018

23,443

New asylum applications

2018

Overview

Belgium has adopted increasingly hardening immigration and asylum policies, including an expansion of its detention system. But the Covid-19 crisis has spurred the country to temporarily reduce its immigration detention capacity by half, to some 300 beds, while the Immigration Office has temporarily halted the registration of new asylum seekers. In 2017, the government back-peddled on an earlier commitment to stop detaining children when it opened new "family units" inside detention centres.

Types of facilities used for migration-related detention
Administrative Ad Hoc Criminal Unknown

11 August 2020

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, https://www.infomigrants.net/fr/post/23785/coronavirus-en-belgique-l-etat-ne-fait-rien-pour-proteger-les-migrants)

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.


06 May 2020

Merksplas Detention Centre, (Ton Wiggenraad,
Merksplas Detention Centre, (Ton Wiggenraad, "200 illegale personen op vrije voeten als gevolg van coronacrisis," HLN, 19 March 2020, https://www.hln.be/nieuws/binnenland/200-illegale-personen-op-vrije-voeten-als-gevolg-van-coronacrisis~a1b17321/?referer=https%3A%2F%2Ft.co%2FKoFwOrmDFr%3Famp%3D1)

Global Detention Project Survey completed by Laura Cleton (@LauraCleton), University of Antwerp

IS THERE A MORATORIUM ON NEW IMMIGRATION DETENTION ORDERS?

There has been no public information on whether new detention orders are still being made. In terms of Orders to Leave the Territory (OLT), the Minister for Social Affairs, Public Health, Migration and Asylum, Maggie de Block, mentions that she has not completely suspended them. If persons get an OLT, they have to leave Belgium and the EU whenever that is possible. Return/removal is still possible for certain countries. Also, individuals can ask for an extension of their OLT’s deadline.

HAVE IMMIGRATION DETAINEES BEEN RELEASED?

Yes, people have been released from immigration detention as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The ministry says that there are two reasons for people to be released from detention. First, because forced removal was no longer possible as a result of the closing of international airspace and limitation on flights. According to law, in certain cases, detention could therefore not be prolonged. Second, detainees were released to guarantee safety of other detainees and personnel. There needed to be less people in the facilities to guarantee the social distancing measures.

On April 8, the minister said that 297 detainees were released from detention, whereas 204 were still residing in detention. This selection was made by the Immigration Services (Dienst Vreemdelingenzaken). Decisions on who gets released and those whose detention is continued are made on an individual basis, file by file. In the first place, the Immigration Services look as to whether removal is still possible within the official term. All elements in the individual file are taken into account, most certainly those having to do with public order. Also those persons in detention whose nationality/identity still need to be established, which can take months, can stay in detention for longer. The current situation, according to Maggie de Block, therefore does not automatically lead to the conclusion that there is no “reasonable prospect of return”. Following the guidelines from the European Commission, detention of the aforementioned groups can be prolonged. There are still judicial procedures in place to check if requirements for (prolonged) detention are still lawfully permitted.

On 19 March, a Belgium newspaper mentioned that at least 200 detainees were released. In the article, the immigration authorities mentioned that people released were mainly “vulnerable persons” and those whose removal could not take place as a result of the closing of airspace. The first group included people with chronic diseases, diabetes or heart conditions. Also people who were detained on the basis of a Dublin claim were released from detention, as removing them is currently not possible. Other people who were released were those who had not committed “offences against public order”. A spokesperson for immigration authorities said that migrants with criminal convictions would remain in detention; this was later reiterated by the Minister for Interior and Migration in a parliamentary debate on 8 April.

On 27 April, there were still 162 detainees in detention centres – 15 in Bruges, 62 at Merksplas, 36 at Vottem, 18 at Steenokkerzeel, 25 at Caricole and 6 at Holsbeek. Minister De Block mentioned that this occupation rate causes no problems for guaranteeing social distancing. She mentions that in some instances, people also sleep in small dorms alone, instead of together.

WHAT MEASURES TO PREVENT FORMER DETAINEES FROM BEING INFECTED?

A 19 March newspaper article reported that there was no reception for those who had been released and “it is unclear where the 200 released detainees reside at this moment.” Maggie de Block said that if detainees are released, staff asks them if they have reception with family or friends. She said that this is the case for the majority of cases. If this is not the case, the Belgium government will “look for reception,” though no details were provided. Detainees can be picked up by family members in the proximity of the centre, or released in proximity to public transportation. In principle, local governments are responsible for providing reception for individuals without papers. Minister De Block mentioned the possibilty of demanding that hotels or campsites give up their rooms to accommodate undocumented migrants and other homeless persons.

ARE DETAINEES BEING TESTED FOR COVID-19?

Detainees are only tested when they show symptoms. On 8 April, there were no known COVID-19 cases among detainees in the detention centres. Similar procedures are followed in regular reception centres for asylum seekers (see Q6) – they are isolated and get the necessary medical attention. On 8 April, there were two people in medical isolation, and there were four known cases among detention centre personnel. On 29 April, Minister de Block confirmed that tests remained available in detention centres but that there were still no confirmed cases among detainees.

The minister said on 8 April that measures taken in detention centres were mainly directed to limiting contact between detainees/staff, and enhancing hygiene. For example, detainees are spread out more evenly through common rooms such as dining halls and dorms. Also, the number of persons who can take part in one daytime activities is limited, all to ensure limited contact between different residents. Visits for detainees are also temporarily suspended, but not for all: parliamentary members and attorneys still have the possibility to visit their clients. Detention centres have the possibility of digital visits, offer more flexible use of telephones and expand internet capacities in the centres. Staff in detention centres also wear mouth masks when the required distance cannot be respected. Detainees have also been offered mouth masks.

On 27 April, there were still 162 detainees in detention centres – 15 in Bruges, 62 at Merksplas, 36 at Vottem, 18 at Steenokkerzeel, 25 at Caricole and 6 at Holsbeek. De Block mentioned that, apart from the centre in Bruges, that this occupation is no problem for guaranteeing social distancing, also not in the dorms. She mentions that in some instances, people also sleep in small dorms alone.

HAVE DEPORTATIONS/REMOVALS BEEN STOPPED?

Deporations still take place on a case by case basis. Between 13 March and 8 April, 93 removals took place, according to the minister, however the specific destinations were not provided. A minority of those are Dublin transfers. Escorts on removal flights are not possible anymore, but people are sometimes accompanied until they board the plane. Removal to countries which have “great difficulties,” like Greece, are not possible.

NEW IMMIGRATION AND/OR ASYLUM POLICIES AS WELL AS BORDER CONTROLS IN RESPONSE TO THE COVID-19 CRISIS

On 17 March, the government decided to temporarily stop admitting applications for international protection and postpone them until further notice. The reason given for this was that at the main asylum application centre called ‘Klein Kasteeltje’ in Brussels, there was too little space to uphold the social distancing measures while continuing the necessary proceedings. At the same time, Caritas Belgium mentioned that there was no alternative reception in place for these new asylum seekers, and hence that they were forced to live on the streets, also in case of extremely vulnerable persons, or families with minor children.

During a parliamentary debate on 8 April, it was reported that registration had resumed, yet in a different format: appointments for hearings had to be made via the internet, and asylum seekers could only enter the Immigration Office’s building if they had made an appointment, to prevent waiting-spaces and queuing. Preference is given to vulnerable people, unaccompanied minors, families with minor children, pregnant women, and persons with severe medical complications. Several members of parliament feared that this application procedure might disproportionately impact illiterate asylum seekers, or those without access to the internet. Other measures taken in the application procedure to guarantee safety are altering the rooms in which asylum hearings take place, by amongst others placing Plexiglas. Employees assessing applications for international protection first try to make decisions on cases which already had hearings, and then also look for possibilities via video conference. The minister added that those who come to the Immigration Office for their appointment get a medical screening upon their arrival, and are isolated if an infection is suspected. In the period of 3 – 27 April, 962 questions for an appointment with the Immigration Office were made, and more than 600 still are awaiting a date for their appointment. In the same period, 154 requests for asylum were made.
From mid-April onwards, new asylum seekers can be received in a military base in Sijsele and the reception centre in Marcinelle, which were also in use in 2015, when Belgium received significantly more asylum seekers during the refugee “crisis.” There is a maximum capacity of respectively 300 and 174 persons in these reception facilities. Persons admitted to the facilities will need to reside in pre-registration reception for 7 days first (at Klein Kasteeltje in Brussels), where registration for asylum happens and they are tested for covid-19 symptoms. Only after examination, if they do not show any symptoms, they can move to Sijsele or Marcinelle. They are not all tested – only those who fit the nation-wide “case definition” (risk groups) are tested. The medical services in the reception centres also take preventive measures to limit spreading of the virus, and giving necessary medical attention. All non-essential medical attention is postponed for now.

Several members of parliament questioned whether it was possible to uphold the social distancing measures at place in these facilities. Minister de Block said that all residents of reception centres follow the rules in force in Belgium at large. Persons with symptoms are immediately placed in isolation, and if necessary seen by a doctor. Those with severe complications are sent to a hospital, where it is decided if the person needs to be tested and hospitalized. This procedure is similar to other collective reception structures. Residents are being notified on the measures in place through information in their own language.

Minister de Block also announced that migrants with legal status, but whose right to reside in Belgium is about to expire, can ask for a prolonging of their residence.


11 April 2020

Migrants Left Homeless Sitting on a Bench in a Park in Brussels, (Olivier Polet, 20 March 2020, Le Soir,
Migrants Left Homeless Sitting on a Bench in a Park in Brussels, (Olivier Polet, 20 March 2020, Le Soir, "Coronavirus: Un Hôtel Bruxellois Pour Confiner les Migrants à la Rue," https://www.lesoir.be/288901/article/2020-03-20/coronavirus-un-hotel-bruxellois-pour-confiner-les-migrants-la-rue)

Authorities announced that they had expanded access to the labour market for asylum applicants (if they have already submitted their application). Authorities hope that they can help make up for the lack of workforce - particularly seasonal workers - in the country.

From 20 March 2020, the Brussels local government will be hosting 100 homeless people, including migrants, in a hotel in Brussels. Médecins Sans Frontières will provide medical care for those accommodated in the hotel.


27 March 2020

Detainee Handcuffed Against a Wall in a Room with a Staff Member Covered in Protective Gear in a Detention Centre, (https://www.moustique.be/25665/la-detention-en-centres-fermes-maintenue)
Detainee Handcuffed Against a Wall in a Room with a Staff Member Covered in Protective Gear in a Detention Centre, (https://www.moustique.be/25665/la-detention-en-centres-fermes-maintenue)

Belgium halved its immigration detention capacity (from 609 to 315 spaces) in the weeks after the outbreak of the pandemic. By 19 March, the total number of detainees in the country’s six detention centres had dropped to 304. However, because reception centres for asylum seekers are no longer accepting new arrivals and detainees are being released without access to support, many released migrants and asylum seekers reportedly have limited options other than to live on the streets. A Belgian NGO has qualified this measure as “unacceptable” and urged the state to use “vacant holiday parks, hotels and sports halls to provide shelter for anyone who is homeless.” They also requested that the government provide undocumented migrants with temporary stay for three months based on their non-reparability and / or other humanitarian reasons.” Family and NGO visits to detention facilities were also suspended, and on 17 March 2020, the Belgian Immigration Office temporarily halted the registration of new asylum seekers.


Last updated: March 2020

Belgium Immigration Detention Profile

 

 

Key findings

  • Before the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, Belgium’s immigration detention capacity was set to nearly double by 2022, to 1,120 beds; the pandemic, however, spurred a temporary reduction to some 300 beds in March 2020.
  • Among the detainees that were released in the wake of the outbreak of the pandemic were vulnerable individuals, including people with diabetes or bronchitis, as well as people slated for removal under the Dublin Agreements because of the inability to return them to European countries that no longer accept transfers.
  • Public attitudes and official policies concerning migrants and asylum seekers in Belgium have become increasingly belligerent and restrictive, as reflected in the bitter public debate in the country concerning the 2018 Global Compact for Migration.
  • Backpedalling on a previous commitment to not detain families with children, in 2017 the government opened new “family units” in detention centres, prompting the child rights ombudsmen to lament that the country “was walking against the tide of history.”
  • In 2018, authorities opened a new form of detention facility called the “National Administrative Centre for Transmigration,” which observers worry will restrict detainees’ access to procedural safeguards.
  • Reports indicate that people have a significantly better chance of successfully appealing detention decisions if they lodge an appeal in a French-speaking court rather than a Dutch-speaking one. 
  • The Aliens Act provides for “detention at the border” (maintien aux frontières) for certain arriving asylum seekers, which presumes that they have not entered the country and thus are not afforded important procedural rights, despite the fact that this form of detention takes place at facilities located in the country’s interior. 
  • The Covid-19 crisis spurred the Immigration Office to temporarily halt the registration of new asylum seekers.

 

1. INTRODUCTION

As countries around the world prepared to ratify the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in December 2018, Belgium was wracked by a bitter public debate over the agreement, threatening the stability of the government. Although most members of the governing coalition were in favour of adopting the compact, the extreme nationalist New Flemish Alliance Party campaigned virulently against it, arguing that it would lead to more migration.[1] When the prime minister announced that he would sign the agreement, the party pulled out of the governing coalition, prompting the government’s collapse and the prime minister’s resignation.[2]

The bitter public debate over the Global Compact is part of a broader hardening of immigration-related policies and attitudes in Belgium.[3] In 2018, for instance, Belgium issued a Royal Decree allowing for the detention of families with children and re-opened a facility for this purpose located at Brussels airport. Although the Belgian Council of State ordered the suspension of the decree because of the harm it would cause,[4] the decree nevertheless spurred criticism nationally and internationally, in part because the country had previously been lauded for its humane treatment of families at “return houses” located in the community.

In recent years, the country’s detention estate has grown considerably. In 2018, Belgium opened a new form of detention facility, called a “National Administrative Centre for Transmigration.”[5] Located inside the existing 127bis “Repatriation Centre,” the “transmigration” centre is intended to be used to detain people labelled “migrants in transit,” who are presumably en route through Belgium to other countries, most notably the United Kingdom. Some observers have expressed concern that non-citizens held in the new facility may have restricted access to procedural safeguards.[6]

In early 2019, the Immigration Department (Office des étrangers) announced that it had hired approximately 600 new staff members as part of its plan to nearly double the country’s immigration detention capacity to some 1,100 beds, which would be enabled by the opening of new detention facilities.

However, faced with the Covid-19 crisis, Belgium took a number of measures to mitigate the risk of infection within immigration detention centres. The capacity of the centres was temporarily reduced by half and many detainees were released.[7] (For more on Belgium’s response to Covid-19 in immigration detention centres, see below, section 3. Detention Infrastructure).

 

2. LAWS, POLICIES, PRACTICES

2.1 Key norms. The key law relevant to immigration detention in Belgium is the Law of 15 December 1980 on Entry, Stay, Settlement and Removal of Foreign Nationals, hereinafter the Aliens Act (Loi du 15 décembre 1980 sur l’accès au territoire, le séjour, l’établissement et l’éloignement des étrangers), which was last amended in December 2018.[8] This law governs asylum procedures, reception conditions, and detention. The Royal Decree of 8 October 1981 Pertaining to Entry, Stay, Settlement and Removal of Foreign Nationals is the implementing legislation for the Aliens Act.[9]

The Reception Act for Asylum Seekers and Certain Other Categories of Foreigners of 12 January 2007 (hereinafter, the Reception Act) details reception conditions for asylum seekers and other categories of non-citizens.[10] It was amended in March 2018 to partly transpose the EU Recast Reception Conditions Directive (2013/33/EU), which gives broad discretion to member states for detaining asylum seekers.[11] The independent Belgian Federal Centre on Migration (Myria) welcomed the new law’s introduction of a definition of the risk of absconding but warned that it was too broad to avoid arbitrary detention. Myria warned that it could pave the way for systematic detention of persons claiming asylum, a practice that is contrary to international and regional norms whereby detention should occur as a last resort.[12]

The Royal Decree on Closed Centres of 2 August 2002 regulates the regime for all premises managed by the Immigration Department and used to detain non-citizens on Belgian territory.[13] A 22 July 2018 Royal Decree sought to amend certain aspects of the 2002 decree, particularly with respect to the detention of children. However, in April 2019, the 2018 decree was suspended by the Belgian Council of State.[14]

2.2 Grounds for detention. Under the Aliens Acts, foreign nationals can be detained for the purpose of removal as per the provisions of Article 7(12): “Unless other sufficient but less coercive measures can be applied effectively the foreigner may be held [maintenu] for the purpose of removal for the time strictly necessary for the implementation of the measure.”

A removal order may be issued for foreign nationals who: are staying in the country irregularly (Articles /1 and /2); pose a threat to public order and security (Article 7/3); have been readmitted to Belgium or are about to be removed (Articles 7/9 and 7/10); were returned or expelled from Belgium less than ten years ago (Article 7/11); have been served an entry ban (Article 7/12); or impede the fulfilment of a removal order (Article 27/3). Under Article 74/5, foreigners can also be placed in detention by border control officers for unauthorised entry at the border pending authorisation (or expulsion) including if they have submitted an asylum claim.

2.3 Criminalisation. A number of immigration-related violations can be penalised with fines or prison sentences. These include unauthorised entry and/or stay, failure to respect non-custodial measures, and failure to depart despite being ordered to do so (Aliens Act Article 75). According to Article 74/11 of the Aliens Act, authorities can impose a maximum three to five-year re-entry ban. Violation of such an entry-ban may be punished by imprisonment for up to one year or a fine of up to 1,000 EUR, and expelled non-citizens who re-enter Belgium less than 10 years after their removal from the country can receive a prison sentence of up to one year (Article 76). According to official information, in practice Belgian authorities have not issued an entry ban of more than 20 years.[15]

2.4 Asylum seekers.  Belgium’s adherence to asylum and refugee norms has come under increasing pressure in recent years as nationalist political parties have sought to limit the ability of people to seek asylum[16] and the country has pursued stringent “detention at the border” policies.

Under Article 74/6 of the Aliens Act, asylum seekers may be detained when there is a need to verify their identity/nationality; to prevent an individual from absconding while determining the elements on which their request is based; when an asylum request is deemed to be made in order to purposefully delay or obstruct a return; and for national security or public order-related reasons.

Following the 2017 amendments to the Aliens Act, Article 1 §2 provides 11 “objective criteria” defining the risk of absconding. These include illegal entry or stay; failure to apply for international protection within a set time frame; supplying false information during a procedure for international protection, return, or refoulement; failure to collaborate with relevant immigration authorities; refusal to collaborate (i.e. during transfer, refoulement, or return; in relation to entry bans to the territory; or alternatives to detention); being subject to an entry ban to Belgium or the territory of another EU country; submitting a new request for protection following a refusal; submitting multiple requests for protection in other EU states, which have been rejected; failure to indicate the submission of a request for protection in another EU country; applying for protection while pursuing other objectives; concealing the registration of fingerprints in Eurodac; and having been fined for lodging a manifestly abusive appeal to the Council for Alien Law Litigation.

According to the Aliens Act, the risk of absconding must be “real,” and thus be based on an individual examination in which the individual is found to meet one or various criteria. Independent observers have voiced concern that one criterion alone would be sufficient to justify detention.[17] NGOs are also particularly concerned by the absence of a definition of “non-cooperation” with the authorities.[18]

Many asylum seekers held in administrative detention have either lodged a claim after being detained or are rejected asylum seekers who have requested a second examination of their application. Asylum applications (including those made by individuals in detention) have to be lodged within eight days of the foreigner’s arrival (Aliens Act, Article 50).

According to NGOs, asylum seekers without travel documents at the border are automatically detained. National civil society organisations and UNHCR have expressed concern that provisions regarding “detention at the border” (Article 74/5) contain less guarantees than those for detention on Belgian territory (Article 74/6)—including, for example, the requirement for an individual assessment and the consideration of whether less coercive measures can be effectively applied.[19] According to Myria, the failure to consider less coercive measures for asylum seekers contravenes Article 8 of the EU Reception Conditions Directive.[20]

The use of the phrase “detention at the border” in the Aliens Act is misleading.[21] It is arguably more accurate to describe the policy as detention “after entry” because most Belgian detention centres are not located at the border. The wording of the Aliens Act (Article 75/4 §2), which stipulates that royal authority can determine the specific places (lieux) for holding foreigners, provides that these sites can be located inside the kingdom but that foreigners held there will not be considered as having been permitted entry to the kingdom. In a 2015 report to the UN Human Rights Council, the government described Caricole Transit Centre as “a closed centre which is located at the border.” However, the centre is actually located near the airport, on the outskirts of Brussels, which is geographically situated in the middle of Belgian territory.[22]

On 17 March 2020, the Belgian Immigration Office (“Office des Etrangers”), announced that it would temporarily halt the registration of new asylum seekers. Registrations usually take place at the arrival centre of the “Petit Château” in Brussels, which has now closed its doors. In effect, this means that new asylum seekers will no longer be accepted in Belgium from 17 March 2020.[23]

2.5 Children. Belgium’s policies and practices with respect to the immigration detention of children and families have experienced a roller-coaster series of developments in recent years. This has included the adoption of one of Europe’s more forward-looking “alternatives to detention” programmes for families, which was subsequently abandoned in favour of a return to family detention. However, in early 2019, a Belgian Council of State ruling suspended a royal decree allowing for the detention of children.[24]

According to the Aliens Act, unaccompanied minors (UAMs) cannot be placed in detention. However, NGOs emphasise that according to the Reception Act (Article 41 §2), unaccompanied minors arriving at the border may still exceptionally be detained for up to nine days for the purposes of an age determination procedure if their age is in doubt.[25]

Since the Reception Act entered into force on 12 January 2007, unaccompanied minors arriving at the border are first brought to specific centres, called Observations and Orientation Centres (OCCs). UAMs are housed in these centres for seven days, under the authority of the Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (Fedasil). Here, they are identified, registered, and assigned a guardian, and the seven-day period here can be renewed once.[26] The OOCs, based in Neder-over-Hembeek and Steenokkerzeel, are legally regarded as being situated at the border so that unaccompanied minors housed within are not considered to have entered the country (Article 41 of the 2007 Reception Act). The facilities are not closed but are secured, and can hold any unaccompanied minor regardless of their administrative status. Following their stay at an OOC, Fedasil moves the UAMs to either a federal reception centre, a Red-Cross centre, or a local reception centre (initiative locale d’accueil).

In 2008, Belgium established maisons de retour (“return houses”), an “alternative to detention” system aimed at helping prevent family detention. In 2009, the detention of families in the first instance was ended following repeated condemnation of this practice inside the country at the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).[27] However, the law authorising family detention did not change and in fact was later refined. In 2011, the Aliens Act incorporated a provision authorising detention for as short a period as possible on the condition that the premises are adapted to the needs of the children.[28]

In November 2016, the Secretary of State for Asylum and Migration announced that families would again be detained in closed centres, claiming that nearly all families abscond from the “semi-open” houses prior to removal.[29] He further added that new “closed housing” would be constructed at the 127bis Repatriation Centre, adjacent to Brussels International Airport. The announcement was followed in July 2018 by a royal decree permitting the detention of children.[30]

In response to the construction of the new detention units in 2018, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights reminded the Belgian government that children should never be detained because of their parents’ immigration status. She stressed that detention conflicts with the best interest of the child—the position that both the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on Migrant Workers take—and encouraged the government to continue investing in human rights compliant alternatives for which Belgium had become a positive reference.[31] (For more on the use of alternatives, see: 2.9 Non-custodial measures.)

Following the Royal Decree’s entry into force, which regulates conditions of detention for families, “family units” (unités familiales) for six to eight families were opened at the 127bis closed centre in August 2018. Families can be held there for up to one month (14 days, renewed once), outdoor playgrounds are available for children who should also be able to have access to education while removal is pending.[32]

Observers have warned that the one-month limit—in cramped and prison-like environments with high noise levels—is in fact only a theoretical limit since detention measures can be renewed if removal efforts fail. Concerns have also been expressed regarding the fact that minors over the age of 16 can be placed in disciplinary isolation premises for up to 24 hours.[33] These concerns have been further exacerbated by the fact that Belgium only ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture in July 2018, and to date no system has been introduced for the independent monitoring of places where persons are deprived of liberty.[34]

In early 2019, with support from UNICEF Belgium, numerous Belgian civil society organisations, including many health professionals, called on the federal government to stop detaining refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant children.[35] They cited rulings against Belgium by the European Court of Human Rights, which “found that the family units in the 127Bis Centre exposed children of a detained family to significant noise pollution due to the location of the centre close to the runway of Brussels airport … [and that]  the exposure of the child to this noise pollution exceeded the severity threshold required for a violation of Article 3 of the [European Convention on of Human Rights].”[36]

In April 2019, following the NGO action, the Belgian Council of State ordered the suspension of the decree permitting child detention.[37] Nevertheless, observers underscore the fact that despite the suspension of this policy, the law permitting the detention of children remained in place (as of early 2020) and there was little to prevent a future government from publishing a new royal decree or building a facility further away from the airport.[38]

2.6 Other vulnerable groups. Although the Aliens Act (Article 1 (12)) defines vulnerable persons as accompanied and unaccompanied minors, disabled persons, elderly persons, pregnant women, isolated parents with minor children, victims of torture, rape, or other grave forms of psychological, physical, or sexual violence, it does not make any other reference to such persons—other than minors—in relation to provisions concerning immigration detention.

According to the Belgian Refugee Council (NANSEN), stateless persons have found themselves at an increased risk of arbitrary detention since the 2018 expansion of detention grounds in law and the shortening of some deadlines for procedural and appeal safeguards.[39] NANSEN and the European Network on Statelessness have promoted legislation aimed at legalising the situation of stateless persons.[40]

According to Myria, three legal texts relate to pregnant women in relation to detention.[41] Women who are more than 28 weeks pregnant cannot be forcibly removed,[42] pregnant rejected asylum seekers can be provided with material assistance at the end of pregnancy and for up to two months after delivery (Article 7 §2.2 of the 2007 Reception Act), and special provisions are required should a women deliver her child in detention—including certain administrative steps following the birth. In practice however, Myria has not come across births in detention as pregnant women cannot be removed beyond 28 weeks (and therefore cannot be detained).

In 2017, 59 pregnant women were detained in Belgium. There have also been cases of women being removed after the 31st week of pregnancy, which—according to the Aliens Office—concerned pregnant women who had been refused entry at the border (refoulées) and who had agreed to be removed. In practice, pregnant women receive special medical assistance, including from a gynaecologist, and they may benefit from a “Special Needs” programme for vulnerable persons.[43]

2.7 Length of detention. Migrants awaiting removal can be detained for up to five months. Non-citizens who fail to respect entry or residence rules can initially be detained for one month (Aliens Act, Article 8bis§1 and §4). This duration can be extended for another two months, renewable once (Aliens Act, Article 29). However, in exceptional cases relating to the maintenance of public order or national security, detention can be extended beyond five months—in such circumstances, a person may be detained for up to eight months (renewed one month at a time) (Article 29). In practice, however, most people are not kept in detention for the maximum permissible period.

Following its most recent visit to places of immigration detention in 2009, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) noted that in practice, a new detention decision after authorities fail to remove a detainee initiates a new detention period.[44] A decade later, NGOs have reported that such “re-detention” continues, including in cases where a detainee lodges a new asylum request, leading to total detention times that exceed the country’s maximum limits.[45]

In 2017, non-citizens spent an average of 35 days in immigration detention. NGO research has however shown that in practice, this average includes data for the very short-term detention of 2,200 persons deemed “inadmissible” and who were refused entry at the border. For example, at the Vottem “Centre for Illegals” the average detention duration was 48.2 days but one-fourth of detainees that NGO representatives met there in 2017 spent over 120 days in detention.[46] Elsewhere, at the Caricole Transit Centre, non-citizens were detained for an average of 10.4 days; 39.3 days at the 127bis Repatriation Centre; 34.7 days at the Centre for Illegals in Bruges; and 40.3 days at the Centre for Illegals in Merksplas.

Under Article 74/6 (4) of the Aliens Act, asylum seekers can generally be held for up to two months. Asylum seekers in the Dublin procedure can be “held in a specific place” (maintenus dans un lieu déterminé) for up to six weeks if there is a risk of absconding while authorities determine which state is responsible for processing the asylum claim and in order to organise a transfer (Article 51/5). Another detention period of up to six weeks can be applied pending transfer (Article 51/5).[47]

2.8 Procedural standards. The Aliens Act provides procedural guarantees for foreigners detained on immigration-related grounds. Non-citizens can challenge their detention by submitting a request to the Council Chamber of the Criminal Court closest to the site of their apprehension (Article 71), and they may resubmit such an appeal “from month to month.”

According to official information, detainees challenging their detention may stand different chances of receiving positive outcomes depending on the linguistic region in which they apply. An official report from the EMN reads: “There is a substantial difference in the jurisprudence of the Dutch-speaking and the French-speaking Courts of first-instance (who are competent for appeals against detention). An irregularly staying third-country national has more than twice as much chance of being released from a detention centre if he appeals to a French-speaking Court than to a Dutch-speaking Court of first-instance.”[48] As most detention centres are located in Dutch-speaking Flanders, this discrepancy in the delivery of justice has serious consequences for most detainees.

Many safeguards are also provided in the Royal Decree of 2002, as amended in 2018. However, according to Myria, the 2018 amendments also diminish some safeguards including: no longer requiring a systematic medical examination after a failed removal attempt (Article 61/1); a possible derogation to the rule that the detainee and his or her legal counsel should be informed 48 hours prior to a first removal attempt (Article 62); and a possibility to place detainees in isolation prior to transfer or removal (Article 84). Further, body searches over clothing will no longer need to be carried out by two officers of the same sex as the detainee, and such a search is no longer explicitly required to take place out of sight from other persons (Article 111/2).[49]

When detained, foreigners must be informed of the reason for their detention, possible judicial remedies, and the rules of the detention facility in a language they can understand (Aliens Act, Article 17). The Aliens Act also provides for free legal assistance (Articles 25 and 90). In Vottem, the bar association arranges limited free legal consultations, and NGOs that visit facilities also provide free legal assistance.

The Reception Act guarantees asylum seekers efficient access to legal aid during first and second instance procedures, as envisaged by the Judicial Code. Asylum seekers can request the assistance of an interpreter when introducing their asylum application with the Immigration Department (Aliens Act, Article 51/4 (2)).

In practice, NGOs observe that detainees are often not correctly informed about their rights and that only a minority of detainees have access to a lawyer. In some cases, lawyers assigned to their cases do not even agree to challenging their detention. Judges only verify if detention is lawful and do not assess whether detention is justified.[50]

National legislation provides for judicial review of the legality of detention, but this is not automatic and lawyers must lodge a request with the Council Chamber of the Criminal Court, which has to decide within five working days (Aliens Act, Article 71). The request does not have a suspensive effect, meaning that detainees can be expelled during the procedure.[51] If the time-limit is not respected, the detainee has to be released from detention as stipulated in Article 72 of the Aliens Act. Moreover, a judicial appeal can be introduced before the Council for Alien Law Litigation against all decisions issued by the Immigration Department. These appeals have an automatic suspensive effect (Aliens Act, Article 39/70) and must be lodged within 30 days following the delivery of the decision to the applicant (Aliens Act, Article 39/57(1)).

In a 2015 joint submission to the Universal Periodic Review, the Belgian NGO CIRÉ (Coordination et Initiatives pour Réfugiés et Etrangers), reported that the judicial review of the administrative detention of foreign nationals was largely ineffective.[52] Indeed, very few cases in which detention has been challenged before a court have been reported by NGOs. Reportedly, the complex linguistic, administrative, and geographic context in Belgium often means that pro bono lawyers are unable to plead before the relevant jurisdiction.[53] In other instances, NGOs have observed that lawyers assigned to detainees through free legal aid are not always willing to submit an appeal within the legal deadline or with the necessary diligence because their services are minimally remunerated.[54]

In 2014, a new complaints procedure was inserted into the Royal Decree on Closed Centres of 2 August 2002. Accordingly, detainees can file a complaint regarding detention conditions by mail within 24 hours and in any language to the director of the centre who must respond within ten working days (Article 129). This complaint procedure is largely ineffective due to a lack of clarity concerning the modalities for the procedure and the high rate of complaints that are inadmissible.[55] The 2002 Royal Decree also created a “Commission des plaintes” (complaints commission) for individual detainees’ complaints regarding the implementation of the decree (Article 130). In 2017, immigration detainees filed 23 complaints to the Complaints Commission, and these largely related to issues such as staff, health care, and transport. Most complaints came from detainees in Merksplas. Only 13 complaints were deemed admissible, and half of these were eventually dropped.[56]

2.9 Non-custodial measures (“alternatives to detention”). The Aliens Law provides for home arrest as a “less coercive measure” than detention (Article 74/6 §1 (4)). A further provision makes reference to “less coercive measures” specifically for asylum seekers (Article 51/5 § 6), and this similarly provides home arrest as an option while authorities determine which state is responsible for processing the asylum request and while awaiting a transfer to the responsible state. Article 44 also provides for the home arrest of EU citizens ordered to leave Belgium.

A form of house arrest was introduced in 2014, authorising families in a regular situation to remain in their own homes. According to Myria, 15 families signed an agreement (convention) allowing them to remain at home in 2017. Two of these families were eventually removed after being placed in a “return house,” but Myria obtained no information about the fate of the other families.[57]

Following condemnation from the ECtHR regarding the detention of minors in ill-suited closed centres, “return houses”[58] were created in 2008 as an “alternative to detention” for families with minor children who have been served with a detention order (décision de maintien).[59] From a Belgian legal point of view, families accommodated in these houses are considered “detained,” although in practice the families enjoy a degree of freedom of movement (the return houses, which can either be houses or flats, are open and families can leave them under specific rules). Jesuit Refugee Service Belgium (JRSB) is the only NGO that regularly visits these facilities, but each house is supported by case managers (a coach and an assistant) who inform families about legal procedures and assist them in preparing for their return if their asylum claim is rejected.[60] JRSB points out that with case managers employed by the local authorities responsible for processing families’ cases, their role can appear ambivalent. As of 2019, there were 27 units, with a total capacity of 169 beds in five locations: Tubize, Beauvechain, Sint-Gillis-Waas, Zulte, and Tielt.[61]

In 2017, 171 families were accommodated in return houses, including 327 children and 240 adults. According to Myria, these families’ main nationalities were Turkish, Albanian, Russian, Serbian, Armenian, DRC Congolese, and Kosovar.[62] Most families were apprehended at the border (88), while 74 were apprehended inside Belgian territory, and nine families were Dublin cases.

Since 2015, return houses have also been used to accommodate destitute irregular families who apply for social welfare assistance but who have not been served with a detention order. They are accommodated under reception legislation and are not deemed to be in “alternatives to detention.”[63]

Belgian law also provides several non-detention options in addition to return houses. The Immigration Department may order house arrest for families (Article 74/9 (3) of the Aliens Act), or require unauthorised non-citizens to lodge a financial guarantee (Article 110(1)(2) of the Royal Decree 1981). However, the only alternative that appears to be regularly used is the placement of families in return houses (Arrêté royal fixant le régime et les règles de fonctionnement applicables aux lieux d'hébergement au sens de l'Article 74/8, § 1er, de la loi du 15 décembre 1980 sur l'accès au territoire, le séjour, l'établissement et l'éloignement des étrangers, 14 May 2009).

2.10 Detaining authorities and institutions. Belgium has a complex state structure with multiple levels of government along federal, regional, and community (linguistic and cultural) lines. In general, immigration policies fall under the competence of the federal government. The state secretary for asylum and migration, attached to the minister of security and the interior, oversees the implementation of migration and detention policies. Under the state secretary, the Immigration Department (Office des étrangers) is responsible for the entry, residence, establishment, and removal of foreign nationals from Belgium.[64] The Immigration Department is charged with the day-to-day administration of most immigration-related policies, including the management of detention centres.

Fedasil, meanwhile, is responsible for the reception of asylum-seekers and coordinates the various voluntary return programmes. The government agency cooperates with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and NGOs to assist voluntary returns and manages 20 federal reception centres as part of a network of 60 (open) reception facilities for asylum seekers.[65]

2.11 Regulation of detention conditions and regimes. Conditions in detention are regulated by the “Royal Decree of 2 August 2002 laying down the rules and regulations applicable to sites located in Belgium, operated by the Immigration Office, where a foreign national is detained, placed at the disposal of the Government or maintained, under the provisions cited in the Article 74/8, paragraph 1, of the Act of 15 December 1980 on the entry, residence, establishment and removal of foreigners.”[66]

The Royal Decree on closed centres characterises daily life in such facilities as collective during the daytime. Detention facilities—including those “at the border”—have separate rooms or wings for families and single women. Women and men have separate sleeping and sanitary facilities and are assisted by same-sex staff members (Article 83). Access to health care is legally determined by “what the state of health demands” and every centre has its own medical service with independent doctors (Article 53). However, detainees have had difficulties obtaining adequate medical care. In the case of Yoh-Ekale Mwanje v Belgium, the ECtHR found that the Cameroonian woman, suffering from HIV, had not been provided with sufficient treatment and authorities had not acted with due diligence in taking the necessary measures to prevent the disease’s deterioration during detention. As such, the ECtHR found that Belgium had violated Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).[67]

2.12 Domestic monitoring. Article 44 of the Royal Decree on Closed Centres provides various international, regional, and national institutions with the right to access facilities—amongst them, UNHCR, the Children’s Rights Commissioner (Délégué general aux droits de l'enfants and Kinderrechtencommissaris), the CPT, Myria, the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons (CGRA), the Walloon and Flemish Offices of the Children's Rights Commissioner, and the UN Committee against Torture (CAT). The country’s immigration minister may also grant visiting rights to other organisations (Article 45).

In 2018, the Children’s Rights Commissioner visited the new “family units” opened inside the 127bis Repatriation Centre. In a joint statement they wrote: “by confining children in exile, Belgium was walking against the tide of history and standing out as opting for the worst.”[68]

Belgian NGOs have been monitoring immigration detention centres for many years. Members of the Transit Platform, who visit detainees in the country’s detention centres, include JRSB, Caritas International, CIRÉ, the Ligue des droits de l’homme, the Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, the MRAX (Mouvement contre le Racisme, l’Antisémitisme et la Xénophobie), and the Myria.

Belgium only adopted a draft law for the ratification of the 2002 Optional Protocol to the UN Convention for the Prevention of Torture (OPCAT) on 19 July 2018.[69] OPCAT Article 3 provides for the creation of a national prevention mechanism (NPM) to carry out monitoring visits to places of deprivation of liberty, however as of mid-2019 this has not yet been established in Belgium (the NPM should be established within one year following OPCAT ratification (Article 17)).

2.13 International monitoring. International and regional human rights mechanisms have challenged the detention of asylum seekers in Belgium—amongst them, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe (2018)[70] and the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. On 1 February 2019, the Committee on the Rights of the Child called on Belgium to end the detention of children in closed centres, and to use non-custodial solutions.[71]

Although the CPT has been an important source of information on immigration detention centres across Europe, it has not reported on detention facilities in Belgium since 2009—even though it has made numerous country visits since then.[72]

2.14 Transparency and access to information. When it comes to its detention and deportation practices, Belgium has at times struggled with transparency.

A case in point is the 2017 case of a group of Sudanese migrants who Belgium sought to deport, information about which later disappeared from public access: In September 2017, the state secretary for asylum and migration invited a Sudanese team to Belgium to interview some 60 migrants in detention to help identify them in order to deport them. Human rights organisations warned that this breached international law, in particular the principle of non-refoulement, and emphasised that persons coming from conflict-affected regions are at risk of persecution. The Belgian government temporarily halted the returns and asked the Belgian Commissioner General for Refugees and Statelessness (CGRS/CGRA) to carry out an investigation into these allegations. In July 2018, the CGRS denied that they would be exposed to any real risk of ill-treatment if returned to Khartoum.[73]

Earlier, in January 2018, Belgian immigration authorities made use of a public request procedure for information concerning Sudan through the EMN ad hoc query facility. The summary of responses to this request to other EU immigration services was made public and quoted in official government and academic publications.[74] However, when a GDP researcher attempted to access the document in early 2019, it had been removed from the public EMN site, a rare occurrence. Following a GDP written freedom of information request to the European Commission, access to the formerly public document was denied on the grounds that it contained “sensitive information concerning Member States’ relationship with third countries and disclosure of the document requested would risk undermining the protection of international relations.”[75] This denial of transparency would appear to be in contradiction with the Belgian government’s stance that “no information was deliberately ignored during the CGRS investigation on Sudan.”[76]

In 2011, the Belgian government created a (temporary) commission responsible for evaluating Belgium’s policies and practices regarding voluntary and forced expulsion.[77] The Commission's interim report published in January 2019 responds to numerous recommendations from NGOs, focusing mainly on Amnesty International's, but fails to provide an actual evaluation of practices—including the return of Sudanese citizens from detention.[78] While welcoming the creation of the commission, various organisations, including Myria, have expressed concern that there seems to be no clear methodology and mandate for the body, and that the interim report “seems to be the result of a theoretical analysis of the legislation and jurisprudence and brings together only a few hearings. The Commission does not appear to have made any field visits to places of detention or to places of refoulement and removal.”[79]

2.15 Trends and statistics. In 2017, Belgium detained 7,105 non-citizens,[80] 6,311 in 2016, 6,229 in 2015, and 5,602 in 2014.[81]

The percentage of international migrants in Belgium grew to 11.1 percent of the population by 2017.[82] New asylum applications rose from 26,080 in 2010 to 44,660 in 2015, but decreased to 22,530 in 2018.[83] Most of these applicants were from Syria, Palestine, Afghanistan, and Iraq—all of which Belgian authorities acknowledge are areas with ongoing conflict.[84]

According to official statistics, there were 3,828 voluntary returns in 2017. That same year, the country forcibly returned 4,503 persons, 67 percent of whom were returned to countries of origin (including 793 EU citizens), 24 percent were Dublin transfers (mostly Sudanese and Eritreans), and nine percent were through bilateral agreements with other EU countries (mostly Pakistanis and Afghans). Forced returns from prisons represented 36 percent of these: 54 percent took place directly from prisons and 41 percent of cases were held in immigration detention prior to expulsion.[85] On top of this, 283 persons were returned through “securitised flights” (vols sécurisés)—including flights jointly organised by additional EU countries (and Switzerland)—most of which were to Albania (25 flights), Pakistan (nine flights), and Nigeria (six flights).[86]

Belgium uses a complex disaggregated system and publishes data on “returns” which includes “repatriation” (or forced returns—to the country of origin and through Dublin and bilateral transfers), “refoulement” (from the border through a closed centre), and voluntary returns. According to official statistics from the Aliens Office, 11,011 persons were “returned” in 2017, and a total of 5,741 persons (including cases of “repatriation” and other cases such as “refoulement”) were returned from detention centres.[87]

2.16 Costs of detention. Like most countries, Belgian authorities do not publish details of costs related to immigration detention. In 2017, a parliamentarian issued a written question to the government regarding this issue. She wrote that according to official figures in the Moniteur Belge, costs for “illegal persons” in closed centres had risen to 192 EUR (however she did not indicate the time frame for this figure). The cost for “ordinary prisoners” was reportedly 60 EUR above that, but covered more items including “sanitary, medical, telephones, gardening, meals, laundry etc.” Based on a 90 percent occupation rate of the Belgian detention estate’s 567 beds, she calculated that the annual total would be 3,792 million EUR.

 

3. DETENTION INFRASTRUCTURE 

3.1 Summary. As of 2020, Belgium operated six dedicated immigration detention facilities,[88] one of which was opened in May 2019.[89] The total detention capacity was increased in recent years—from 458 places in 2015 to 609 in 2017.[90] In 2018, the government announced plans to double its total detention capacity, increasing it to more than 1,100 by 2022.[91]

To implement this plan, the government not only opened a new facility in Holsbeek (with 50 beds) in 2019, but announced plans to open additional facilities in Zandvliet in 2020/21 (with 144 beds), and in Jumet in 2021 (with 200 beds). To construct Zandvliet centre, Belgium accepted units donated by the Dutch government in May 2018. These prefabricated containers, dubbed “carceral units,” had been used by the Dutch from 2010 to 2016 to detain Belgian prisoners at the Tilburg prison as part of an agreement to tackle prison overcrowding in Belgium. According to media reports, the carceral units will be adapted to Belgian norms, and the total budget for the construction of the facility is estimated at 20 million EUR (or 138,800 EUR per bed).[92] The Jumet facility, meanwhile, is expected to be constructed on a former federal police site near Charleroi, although local authorities are opposed to the project.[93] Once operational, it would be the largest in Belgium. In early 2019 the Immigration Department announced plans to hire some 600 new staff to work in the new housing units in the 127bis Repatriation Centre, as well as the closed centres in Zandvliet, Holsbeek, et Jumet.[94]

Nonetheless, faced with the Covid-19 crisis, and in an effort to mitigate the risks of infection, Belgium reduced the capacity of its six immigration detention centres from 609 to 315. In March 2020, it was reported that the number of detainees fell from 603 to 304[95] with detainees being released and left homeless. According to the Foreign Office, vulnerable groups, including people with diabetes or bronchitis, were released first. Subsequently individuals that were to be returned under the Dublin Agreements were released given that European countries no longer accept transfers because of the Covid-19 crisis. In addition, since 13 March 2020, visits from family members and NGOs have been suspended. Only lawyers and members of Parliament are allowed to enter the centres.[96]

3.2 List of detention facilities. Caricole Transit Centre, 127bis Repatriation Centre, Vottem Detention Centre, Merksplas Detention Centre, Bruges Detention Centre, and Holsbeek Detention Centre.

3.3 Conditions and regimes in detention centres.

3.3a Overview. In 2018, there were reports of hunger strikes, most of which took place at the Vottem centre. Reportedly, 17 persons embarked upon hunger strikes in May 2018 at the 127bis centre following reports that the centre’s management had forbidden two external associations from delivering food during Ramadan. The hunger strikers called for greater respect for their religion and for access to the centre’s kitchen to prepare their own meals, among other demands.[97]

3.3b 127bis Repatriation Centre. Opened in 1994 near Brussels Airport, the centre can accommodate 120 detainees. Capacity was temporarily reduced to 60 detainees due to the Covid-19 crisis.[98] Despite its name, most of those detained at 127bis are asylum seekers awaiting transfer to another EU member state under the Dublin Regulation.[99] New family units were opened in the facility in 2018 (see: 2.5 Children).

3.3c The National Administrative Centre for Transmigration. The facility was opened in September 2018 inside the 127bis facility and has some 40 beds. It is exclusively managed by the police and operates like a police station.[100] According to the government, the centre was also opened with the aim of better collecting information about smuggling rings. The Federal Police are responsible for the administrative processing of “transmigrants’” files, and they take fingerprints as well as carry out searches in relevant databases. “Transmigrants” may remain confined within the centre pending a decision from the Aliens Office.[101]

3.3d Caricole Transit Centre. The centre, whose name is derived from the snail-shape of the building,[102] was built in 2012 under public pressure to provide improved detention conditions and replace the dilapidated Centre 127 and a neighbouring INAD (“inadmissibles”) centre. Like the 127bis centre, the Caricole Transit Centre is located alongside one of Brussels Airport’s runways and mainly holds non-citizens denied entry at the airport. Detainees have no views of the outdoors, they can move about in designated areas of the facility during the day, and there are three disciplinary isolation cells.[103] The centre is accessed directly from the airport to avoid using external roads for transfers. The Caricole building belongs to the Brussels International Airport Company, which rents it to the Belgian authorities for 1.2 million EUR a year. According to NGOs, a substantial number of detainees here are asylum seekers.[104] The capacity of the centre was temporarily reduced to 50 due to the Covid-19 crisis.[105]

3.3e Bruges Detention Centre (“Centre for Illegals”). The facility was opened in 1995 in a former women’s prison and contains 112 beds. Detainees are placed in dormitories—rooms of 16 beds for women, and rooms of 20 beds for men.[106] Faced with the Covid-19 crisis, capacity of the centre was temporarily reduced to a maximum of 60. In March 2020, reports indicated that 44 people were in the centre.[107]

3.3f Merksplas Detention Centre (“Centre for Illegals”). The centre was initially built in 1875 to house vagrants, and it began detaining migrants in 1994. The official name for the centre uses the derogatory “illegals” terminology, which was denounced by the UN General Assembly as early as 1975 and by the Council of Europe in 2011.[108] According to NGOs, conditions at Merksplas are particularly severe. Although it now only hosts men, the facility hosted families with children from 2006 to 2008. Dormitories were replaced in 2015 with 16 cells accommodating five people, each of which is equipped with a television set. The centre has a 146-bed capacity and includes isolation cells and individual rooms for people who cannot be accommodated in shared rooms (régime adapté).[109] Yet, the Covid-19 crisis led the government to temporarily reduce capacity to 71 beds.[110] In addition to undocumented migrants, the facility also holds asylum seekers who filed their application with the Immigration Office from inside the detention centre.

3.3g Vottem Detention Centre (“Centre for Illegals”). The centre was opened in 1999 and is the only facility in the French speaking Wallonia region (near Liège). With 160 beds, this facility is male only.[111] The Covid-19 crisis spurred a temporary reduction in capacity to 60 beds.[112] The centre has four wings and detainees are placed in four-person cells.[113] According to NGOs, when the Aliens Office (Office des étrangers) deems certain detainees unable to adapt to the collective nature of immigration detention, they are placed in separate rooms where they remain locked for 22 hours of the day.[114]

3.3h Holsbeek Detention Centre. The 60-bed facility in Holsbeek was opened in May 2019 and exclusively confines women.[115] Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, capacity was temporarily reduced to 14 beds, housing one detainee per room.[116]

3.3i Previously used facilities. Belgium’s first dedicated detention centre was opened in 1988 following amendments to the 1980 Aliens Act, which removed asylum seekers’ rights to automatically access national territory. This first “transit centre,” opened without parliamentary debate, was housed in former military barracks known as “Zone 127” and was located near the runway of Brussels Airport. With derelict prefabricated modules, Centre 127 was closed in 2012.[117]

 


[1] The N-VA’s Theo Francken had previously argued that the country’s asylum policy should resemble Australia’s zero tolerance for unauthorised migration (Belga 2018a).

[2] L. Cerulus, and S. Wheaton, “Belgium Sets up Minority Government after Migration Dispute Breaks Coalition,” Politico, 9 December 2018, https://politi.co/2FmQF18

[3] Amnesty International, “Les droits humains aujourd'hui – 2018: La situation des droits humains en Belgique en 2018,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2UAk5Om

[4] European Database of Asylum Law, “Belgium: Council of State Rules to Suspend Royal Decree Permitting the Detention of Children,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2YEH68s

[5] The term “transmigration” was at one time used by sociologists and anthropologists to describe circular migration and the movement of international migrants who maintain strong links with their country of origin. It is also widely used to refer to international migrants transiting through countries within which they do not want to settle, en route to a final destination in another country. Some experts have said that the term is meaningless and that it only serves to generate fear and dehumanise asylum seekers. (See: N. Glick Schiller, K. Basch, and C. Szanton Blanc, "From Immigrant to Transmigrant: Theorizing Transnational Migration,” Anthropological Quarterly, 68 (1), 1995, https://bit.ly/2XoOh10; A. Tarrius, "Des transmigrants en France: un comsmopolitisme migratoire original," Multitudes, 49 (2), 2012,  https://bit.ly/2ttMAl6; and S. Benkhelifa, "Transmigrant, un mot qui ne veut rien dire. Une réalité mortelle," Le Vif, 21 October 2018, https://bit.ly/2V75R7D)

[6] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[7] Ruben Bruynooghe (Jesuit Refugee Service – Belgium), Email correspondence with Mario Guido (Global Detention Project), 20 March 2020; Commissioner for Human Rights, “Commissioner Calls for Release of Immigration Detainees During Covid-19 Crisis,” 26 March 2020, https://bit.ly/39tCcw0

[8] Government of Belgium, “Arrêté royal modifiant l'arrêté royal du 2 août 2002 fixant le régime et les règles de fonctionnement applicables aux lieux situés sur le territoire belge, gérés par l'Office des Etrangers, où un étranger est détenu, mis à la disposition du gouvernement ou maintenu, en application des dispositions citées dans l'Article 74/8, § 1er, de la loi du 15 décembre 1980 sur l'accès au territoire, le séjour, l'établissement et l'éloignement des étrangers (updated on 1 August 2018),” 2002, https://bit.ly/1Fx8sZ0

[9] Government of Belgium, “Arrêté royal sur l'accès au territoire, le séjour, l'établissement et l'éloignement des étrangers (updated up to 24 December 2018),” 1981, https://bit.ly/2DEeakl

[10] Government of Belgium, “Loi sur l'accueil des demandeurs d'asile et de certaines autres catégories d'étrangers (updated up to 12 March 2018),” 2007, https://bit.ly/1MA7uD0

[11] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[12] Myria, “Note à l’attention de la Commission de l’Intérieur, des Affaires générales et de la Fonction publique – Projet de loi (DOC 54–2549/001 et 2548/001) du 22 juin2017 modifiant la loi du 15/121980, Modifications en matière d’éloignement et detention,” 2017, https://bit.ly/2N6p2vJ

[13] Government of Belgium, “Arrêté royal fixant la procédure devant le Commissariat général aux Réfugiés et aux Apatrides ainsi que son fonctionnement (updated up to 11 July 2018),” 2003, https://bit.ly/2kDGZXh

[14] European Database of Asylum Law, “Belgium: Council of State Rules to Suspend Royal Decree Permitting the Detention of Children,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2YEH68s

[15] European Migration Network (EMN), “The Effectiveness of Return in EU Member States 2017. Synthesis Report for the EMN Focussed Study,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2V9nNP5

[16] See, for instance, New Flemish Party website, “N-VA Requests Tightening of Reception Rights,” 9 January 2020, https://english.n-va.be/news/n-va-requests-tightening-of-reception-rights

[17] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[18] Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen (Flemish Refugee Action), “Country Report: Belgium,” Asylum Information Database (AIDA) and European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), 2018, https://bit.ly/2GnKVpJ

[19] Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen (Flemish Refugee Action), “Country Report: Belgium,” Asylum Information Database (AIDA) and European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), 2018, https://bit.ly/2GnKVpJ

[20] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[21] M. Grange, “Smoke Screens: Is there a Correlation Between Migration Euphemisms and the Language of Detention,” Global Detention Project Working Paper No. 5, 2013, https://bit.ly/2ScfPCL

[22] UN Human Rights Council (HRC), “National Report Submitted in Accordance with Paragraph 5 of the Annex to Human Rights Council Resolution 16/21*- Belgium, A/HRC/WG.6/24/BEL/1,” 2015.

[23] Fedasil, “Le centre d’arrivée ferme ses portes,” 17 March 2020, https://bit.ly/2wnqcyI

[24] European Database of Asylum Law, “Belgium: Council of State Rules to Suspend Royal Decree Permitting the Detention of Children,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2YEH68s

[25] Plate-forme Mineurs en Exil, “Détention,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2SRiLql 

[26] Service Public Fédéral (SPF) Justice, “Prise en charge d’un mineur étranger non accompagné,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2JehicB

[27] European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), “Mubilanzila Mayeka and Kaniki Mitunga vs Belgium, No 13178/03,” 2006, https://bit.ly/37qC9QH; European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), “Muskhadzhiyeva and Others vs Belgium, No 41442/07,” 2010, https://bit.ly/2SNtp21; European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), “Kanagaratnam and Others vs Belgium, No 15297/09,” 2011, https://bit.ly/2Oq0JNq

[28] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[29] La Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, “La politique d’asile de Theo Francken, du cynisme à l’inhumanité,” 2016, http://www.liguedh.be/la-politique-dasile-de-francken-du-cynisme-a-linhumanite; RTBF, “Theo Francke: C’est nécessaire de pouvoir enfermer les familles quelques jours avant leur rapatriement,” 30 November 2016, https://bit.ly/2SM7haW

[30] European Database of Asylum Law, “Belgium: Council of State Rules to Suspend Royal Decree Permitting the Detention of Children,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2YEH68s

[31] Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, “Letter to Mr Theo Francken, Secretary of State for Migration and Asylum,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2DFYZXX

[32] CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/

[33] Myria, “Ouverture imminente des unités familiales dans le centre fermé 127bis,”  https://bit.ly/2yqehOd

[34] Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT), “Belgium – OPCAT Situation,” 2019,  https://apt.ch/en/opcat_pages/opcat-situation-6/

[35] UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Plate-forme Mineurs en Exil, “On n’infirme pas un enfant. Point,” 2019, http://www.onnenfermepasunenfant.be/   

[36] European Database of Asylum Law, “Belgium: Council of State Rules to Suspend Royal Decree Permitting the Detention of Children,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2YEH68s

[37] European Database of Asylum Law, “Belgium: Council of State Rules to Suspend Royal Decree Permitting the Detention of Children,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2YEH68s

[38] Magma, “Interview with Rob Kaalen of Plate-forme Mineurs en exil (in French),” 9 January 2020, http://www.mag-ma.org/nord-sud/detenir-des-enfants-en-centre-ferme-violation-des-droits-de-lrenfant/

[39] J. Lejeune, “Statelessness in Belgium: A Blurred Landscape,” European Network on Statelessness, 2019, https://bit.ly/2EIpI6E  

[40] European Network on Statelessness and Belgian Refugee Council (NANSEN), “Avis conjoint du Réseau européen sur l’apatridie et de NANSEN sur la proposition de loi modifiant la loi du 15 décembre 1980 sur l’accès au territoire, le séjour, l’établissement et l’éloignement des étrangers, en vue de régler le droit de séjour des apatrides,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2TsPm9O

[41] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[42] Government of Belgium, “Circulaire du 29 mai 2009 relative à l’identification d’étrangers en séjour irrégulier, M.B.,” 15 July 2009, https://www.gisti.org/spip.php?article1605

[43] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[44] European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), “Rapport au Gouvernement de la Belgique relatif à la visite effectuée en Belgique par le Comité européen pour la prévention de la torture et des peines ou traitements inhumains ou dégradants (CPT) du 28 septembre au 7 octobre 2009, CPT/Inf(2010)24,” 2010, https://bit.ly/2STCGbK

[45] CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/

[46]  CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/

[47] Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen (Flemish Refugee Action), “Country Report: Belgium,” Asylum Information Database (AIDA) and European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), 2018, https://bit.ly/2GnKVpJ

[48] Belgian National Contact Point of the European Migration Network, “The Effectiveness of Return in Belgium: Challenges and Good Practices Linked to EU Rules and Standards,” European Migration Network, 2018, https://bit.ly/2Tew2w5

[49] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[50] CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/ 

[51] CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/ 

[52] Working Group on the Universal Periodic Report, “Summary Prepared by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: Belgium, A/HRC/WG.6/24/BEL/3,” 2015, http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/alldocs.aspx?doc_id=25760  

[53] Caritas International, CIRÉ, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), La Ligue des droits de l’Homme, le MRAX, and Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, “Centres fermés pour étrangers – état des lieux,” 2016, https://bit.ly/2T1vWnf

[54] CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/

[55] Myria, “La migration en chiffres et en droits, Chapitre 9: Retour, détention et éloignement,” 2015, http://www.myria.be/files/Migration-rapport-2015-C9.pdf

[56] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[57] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[58] Also called FITT-units. FITT stands for “Family Identification and Return Unit.”

[59] Government of Belgium, “Arrêté royal fixant le régime et les règles de fonctionnement applicables aux lieux d'hébergement au sens de l'Article 74/8, § 1er, de la loi du 15 décembre 1980 sur l'accès au territoire, le séjour, l'établissement et l'éloignement des étrangers (updated 30 April 2010),” 2009, https://bit.ly/2TNFO5e

[60] S. Sarolea, P. D’Huart, and B. Chapaux, “Completed Questionnaire: Belgium,” Odysseus Network, Contention, 2014, http://contention.eu/docs/country-reports/BelgiumFinal.pdf

[61] CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/; Jesuit Refugee Service Belgium (JRSB), “Le JRS en maisons de retour,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2GGThrL

[62] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[63] Deborah Weinberg (Myria), email correspondence with Mariette Grange (Global Detention Project), 19 December 2016.

[64] Government of Belgium, “Arrêté royal modifiant l'arrêté royal du 2 août 2002 fixant le régime et les règles de fonctionnement applicables aux lieux situés sur le territoire belge, gérés par l'Office des Etrangers, où un étranger est détenu, mis à la disposition du gouvernement ou maintenu, en application des dispositions citées dans l'Article 74/8, § 1er, de la loi du 15 décembre 1980 sur l'accès au territoire, le séjour, l'établissement et l'éloignement des étrangers (updated on 1 August 2018),” 2002, https://bit.ly/1Fx8sZ0

[65] Federal Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (Fedasil), “Reception Centres,” 2019, https://www.fedasil.be/en/reception-centres

[66] Government of Belgium, “Arrêté royal modifiant l'arrêté royal du 2 août 2002 fixant le régime et les règles de fonctionnement applicables aux lieux situés sur le territoire belge, gérés par l'Office des Etrangers, où un étranger est détenu, mis à la disposition du gouvernement ou maintenu, en application des dispositions citées dans l'Article 74/8, § 1er, de la loi du 15 décembre 1980 sur l'accès au territoire, le séjour, l'établissement et l'éloignement des étrangers (updated on 1 August 2018),” 2002,  https://bit.ly/1Fx8sZ0

[67] European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), “Yoh-Ekale Mwanje vs Belgium, No 10486/10,” 2011, https://bit.ly/2URxpko

[68] B. De Vos, and B. Vanobbergen, “On n’enferme pas un enfant. Point!,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2UzPqAZ

[69] Government of Belgium, “Projet de loi du 21 juin 2018, portant assentiment du Protocole facultatif se rapportant à la Convention contre la torture et autres peines ou traitements cruels, inhumains ou dégradants, adopté à New York, le 18 décembre 2002, DOC 54–3192/001,” 2018.

[70] Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, “Letter to Mr Theo Francken, Secretary of State for Migration and Asylum,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2DFYZXX

[71] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), “Concluding Observations on the Combined Fifth and Sixth Reports of Belgium, CRC/C/BEL/CO/5-6,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2tajFCk

[72] European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), “The CPT and Belgium,” 2019, https://www.coe.int/en/web/cpt/belgium

[73] Commissariat général aux réfugiés et aux apatrides (CGRA), “Critique injustifiée rapport Soudan,” 2018, https://www.cgra.be/fr/actualite/critique-injustifiee-rapport-soudan

[74] UK Home Office, “Country Policy and Information Note: Sudan: Return of Unsuccessful Asylum Seekers,” 2018, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/sudan-country-policy-and-information-notes; SOAS, IRRI, and Waging Peace, “Sudan’s Compliance with its Obligations Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the Context of Mixed Migration From, and to Sudan-124th Session of the Human Rights Committee – Review of Sudan’s State Party Report,” 2018, https://www.ecoi.net/en/file/local/1447525/1930_1540379428_int-ccpr-css-sdn-32358-e.pdf

[75] Letter from Paraskevi Michou, (European Commission, Secretary-General,) “Transparency, Document Management and Access to Documents,” to Mariette Grange (Global Detention Project), 4 April 2019.

[76] Commissariat général aux réfugiés et aux apatrides (CGRA), “Critique injustifiée rapport Soudan,” 2018, https://www.cgra.be/fr/actualite/critique-injustifiee-rapport-soudan

[77] Amnesty International, “Les droits humains aujourd'hui – 2018: La situation des droits humains en Belgique en 2018,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2UAk5Om

[78] M. Bossuyt, “Rapport intérimaire de la Commission chargée de l'évaluation de la politique du retour volontaire et de l'éloignement forcé d'étrangers. Report presented to the Minister of Asylum and Migration,” https://bit.ly/2TKdcwP

[79] Myria, “Retour et éloignement: rapport intermédiaire de la Commission Bossuyt,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2TOJbNp

[80] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,”2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[81] Myria, "Return, Detention and Removal of Foreigners: A Return, at What Costs?" 2017, https://www.myria.be/files/171030_Myriadoc_5_Detentie__terugkeer_en_verwijdering_NL.pdf

[82] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), “International Migration 2017, Wall Chart,” 2017, http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/publications/wallchart/docs/MigrationWallChart2017.pdf

[83] Eurostat, “Database,” 2019, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/data/database

[84] Commissariat général aux réfugiés et aux apatrides (CGRA), “Statistiques d'asile – Bilan 2018,” 2019, https://www.cgra.be/fr/actualite/statistiques-dasile-bilan-2018

[85] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018,  https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[86] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[87] Carolina Grafé (Myria), Email correspondence with Mariette Grange (Global Detention Project), 15 March 2019.

[88] Ruben Bruynooghe (Jesuit Refugee Service – Belgium), Email correspondence with Mario Guido (Global Detention Project), 20 March 2020.

[89] CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019. https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/); Myria, Repatriation, detention and deportation,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2HmtWTh; Getting the Voice Out, http://www.gettingthevoiceout.org/what-are-the-detention-centres-in-belgium/

[90] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[91] Getting the Voice Out, “Le masterplan centres fermés:: Centre fermé pour femmes à Holsbeek,” July 2019, http://www.gettingthevoiceout.org/le-masterplan-centres-fermes-centre-ferme-pour-femmes-a-holsbeek/

[92] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[93] CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/

[94] Belgian Foreign Office, “Travailler à l’Office des étrangers,” 2019, https://bit.ly/2FLQnlQ

[95] B. Struys “Coronavirus zet vreemdelingenzaken onder druk: 300 mensen zonder papieren vrigelaten,” De Morgen, 19 March 2020, https://bit.ly/2U7S8zC

[96] Ruben Bruynooghe (Jesuit Refugee Service – Belgium), Email correspondence with Mario Guido (Global Detention Project), 20 March 2020.

[97] Getting the Voice Out, “Hunger Strike in Closed Centre in Vottem,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FnUfbm; Getting the Voice Out, “Epileptic Crisis and Hunger Strike at the 127bis Closed Centre,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2WclYBA

[98] Ruben Bruynooghe (Jesuit Refugee Service – Belgium), Email correspondence with Mario Guido (Global Detention Project), 20 March 2020.

[99] CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/

[100] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[101] Belga, “127 bis: le centre administratif pour transmigrants a ouvert à Steenokkerzeel,” Le Soir, 13 September 2018, https://bit.ly/2Nf7Q7d

[102] Street vendors in Brussels sell a traditional fare of “caricoles,” a name for sea snails.

[103] Caritas International, CIRÉ, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), La Ligue des droits de l’Homme, le MRAX, and Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, “Centres fermés pour étrangers – état des lieux,” 2016, https://bit.ly/2T1vWnf

[104] CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/

[105] Ruben Bruynooghe (Jesuit Refugee Service – Belgium), Email correspondence with Mario Guido (Global Detention Project), 20 March 2020.

[106] Getting the Voice Out, “What are the Detention Centres in Belgium,” 2015, http://www.gettingthevoiceout.org/what-are-the-detention-centres-in-belgium/; CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/

[107] Ruben Bruynooghe (Jesuit Refugee Service – Belgium), Email correspondence with Mario Guido (Global Detention Project), 20 March 2020.

[108] M. Grange, “Smoke Screens: Is There a Correlation Between Migration Euphemisms and the Language of Detention,” Global Detention Project Working Paper No. 5, 2013, https://bit.ly/2ScfPCL

[109] Caritas International, CIRÉ, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), La Ligue des droits de l’Homme, le MRAX, and Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, “Centres fermés pour étrangers – état des lieux,” 2016, https://bit.ly/2T1vWnf; CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/

[110] Ruben Bruynooghe (Jesuit Refugee Service – Belgium), Email correspondence with Mario Guido (Global Detention Project), 20 March 2020.

[111] Myria, “Retour, détention et éloignement des étrangers en Belgique: Droit de vivre en famille sous pression,” 2018, https://bit.ly/2FPAo6t

[112] Ruben Bruynooghe (Jesuit Refugee Service – Belgium), Email correspondence with Mario Guido (Global Detention Project), 20 March 2020.

[113] Getting the Voice Out, “What are the Detention Centres in Belgium?” http://www.gettingthevoiceout.org/what-are-the-detention-centres-in-belgium/

[114] CIRÉ, “Les centres fermés – édition 2019,” 2019, https://www.cire.be/les-centres-fermes/

[115] Getting the Voice Out, “Le masterplan centres fermés: Centre fermé pour femmes à Holsbeek,” July 2019, http://www.gettingthevoiceout.org/le-masterplan-centres-fermes-centre-ferme-pour-femmes-a-holsbeek/

[116] Ruben Bruynooghe (Jesuit Refugee Service – Belgium), Email correspondence with Mario Guido (Global Detention Project), 20 March 2020.

[117] Caritas International, CIRÉ, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), La Ligue des droits de l’Homme, le MRAX, and Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen, “Centres fermés pour étrangers – état des lieux,” 2016, https://bit.ly/2T1vWn

IMMIGRATION AND DETENTION-RELATED STATISTICS

Total number of immigration detainees by year
7,105
2017
6,311
2016
6,229
2015
5,602
2014
6,285
2013
6,797
2012
7,034
2011
6,553
2010
6,439
2009
6,902
2008
7,506
2007
8,742
2006
7,837
2004
9,345
2003
8,590
2002
Number of immigration detainees on a given day
202
2020
162
2020
304
2020
Top nationalities of detainees
Albania, Morocco, Afghanistan, Sudan, Algeria
2017
Number of persons granted alternatives to immigration detention
590
2013
485
2012
463
2011
221
2010
206
2009
Number of detained asylum seekers
Not Available
2018
969
2015
1,868
2014
1,884
2013
1,371
2011
1,449
2010
Total number of detained minors
326
2017
316
2016
345
2015
429
2014
352
2013
Number of apprehensions of non-citizens
19,145
2018
30,757
2017
29,059
2016
24,137
2015
15,540
2014
15,075
2013
15,085
2012
Immigration detainees as a percentage of total international migrant population
0.45
2015
0.54
2013
0.62
2010
Estimated total immigration detention capacity
609
2017
583
2016
452
2015
Number of dedicated long-term immigration detention centres
5
2018
5
2017
5
2016
5
2015
Estimated capacity of dedicated long-term immigration detention centres
583
2016
Number of persons removed/returned (voluntary returns and deportations)
4,940
2018
6,315
2017
4,245
2016
5,835
2015
5,575
2014
7,170
2013
7,840
2012
Number of deportations/forced returns only
Not Available
2018
2,615
2017
2,630
2016
2,525
2015
2,640
2014
Percentage of persons removed in relation to total number of people placed in removal procedures
88.88
2017
15.8
2014
Criminal prison population
11,071
2016
11,769
2014
Percentage of foreign prisoners
45
2015
44.2
2011
Prison population rate (per 100,000 of national population)
98
2016
105
2014
Population
11,600,000
2020
11,299,000
2015
10,800,000
2012
International migrants
1,388,000
2015
1,159,800
2013
1,053,000
2010
International migrants as a percentage of the population
12.3
2015
10.4
2013
Estimated number of undocumented migrants
100,000
2016
Refugees
42,168
2018
42,168
2017
42,128
2016
35,314
2015
25,633
2014
Ratio of refugees per 1000 inhabitants
3.71
2016
2.6
2014
2.01
2012
Total number of new asylum applications
23,443
2018
19,688
2017
18,710
2016
44,760
2015
38,570
2012
Refugee recognition rate
57
2016
52
2015
32
2014
Stateless persons
7,695
2018
2,630
2016
5,267
2015
2,466
2014
Number of detained unaccompanied minors
Number of detained accompanied minors
Number of detained stateless persons
Number of dedicated medium-term immigration detention centres
Number of immigration offices
Number of transit facilities
Number of criminal facilities
Number of ad hoc facilities

SOCIO-ECONOMIC INDICATORS

Gross Domestic Product per capita (in USD)
47,352
2014
45,387
2013
Remittances to the country
11,321,000
2015
10,985
2011
Remittances from the country
4,051
2010
Unemployment Rate
2014
Net official development assistance (ODA) (in millions USD)
2,315
2012
2,807
2011
Human Development Index Ranking (UNDP)
21 (Very high)
2014
Unemployment rate amongst migrants
Detention for deterrence
Pew Global Attitudes Poll on Immigration
Immigration Index Score
World Bank Rule of Law Index
Domestic Opinion Polls on Immigration

DOMESTIC LAWS AND POLICIES

Legal tradition
Civil law
Constitutional guarantees?
Yes (La Constitution Belge, Article 12) 1994 2014
1994
Core pieces of national legislation
15 DECEMBRE 1980. - Loi sur l'accès au territoire, le séjour, l'établissement et l'éloignement des étrangers mise à jour au 2 juillet 2018 (1980) 2018
1980
Law of 15 December 1980 regarding the Entry, Residence, Settlement and Removal of Aliens (Aliens Act) (1980) 2016
1980
Law of 12 January 2007 regarding the Reception of Asylum Seekers and other categories of Aliens (known as Reception Act) (2007)
2007
Additional legislation
8 OCTOBRE 1981. - Arrêté royal sur l'accès au territoire, le séjour, l'établissement et l'éloignement des étrangers mise à jour au 16 novembre 2018 (1981) 2018
1981
22 juillet 2018. Arrêté royal modifiant l'arrêté royal du 2 août 2002 fixant le régime et les règles de fonctionnement applicables aux lieux situés sur le territoire belge, gérés par l'Office des Etrangers, où un étranger est détenu, mis à la disposition du gouvernement ou maintenu, en application des dispositions citées dans l'article 74/8, § 1er, de la loi du 15 décembre 1980 sur l'accès au territoire, le séjour, l'établissement et l'éloignement des étrangers (2018)
2018
Royal Decree of 2 August 2002 determining the regime and regulations to be applied in the places on the Belgian territory managed by the AO where an alien is detained, placed at the disposal of the government or withheld, in application of article 74/8 §1 of the Aliens Act (known as Royal Decree on Closed Centres) (2002) 2014
2002
Royal Decree of 8 October 1981 regarding the Entry on the territory, Residence, Settlement and Removal of Aliens (1981)
1981
Royal Decree of 9 April 2007 determining the regime and functioning rules of the Centres for Observation and Orientation of Unaccompanied Minors (known as Royal Decree on OOCs) (2007)
2007
Immigration-status-related grounds
Detention to effect removal
2017
Detention during the asylum process
2017
Detention after readmission
2017
Detention to prevent unauthorised entry at the border
2017
Detention to ensure transfer under the Dublin Regulation
2017
Non-immigration-status-related grounds providing for administrative detention in immigration legislation.
Detention on public order, threats or security grounds
2017
Does the country provide specific criminal penalties for immigration-related violations?
Yes (Yes)
2019
Yes (Yes)
2016
Yes (Yes)
2014
Grounds for criminal immigration-related detention/incarceration and maximum potential duration of incarceration
Unauthorised stay (365)
2016
Unauthorized re-entry (365)
2016
Unauthorised stay (90)
2015
Unauthorized entry (90)
2014
Maximum length for administrative immigration detention in law.
150
2019
150
2016
Longest recorded instance of immigration detention.
429
2015
270
2014
Maximum length of time in custody prior to issuance of a detention order
1
2016
Average length of detention
35
2017
26
2016
26
2012
27
2011
27
2010
25
2009
Maximum length of detention for asylum-seekers
150
2015
Provision of basic procedural standards
Information to detainees (Yes) infrequently
2019
Independent review of detention (Yes)
2017
Complaints mechanism regarding detention conditions (Yes)
2002
Right to legal counsel (Yes)
1981
Right to appeal the lawfulness of detention (Yes)
1980
Types of non-custodial measures
Release on bail (No) No
2014
Supervised release and/or reporting (No) No
2014
Electronic monitoring (No) No
2014
Registration (deposit of documents) (No) No
2014
Designated non-secure housing (No) No
2014
Is the detention of vulnerable persons provided in law? Are they detained in practice?
Unaccompanied minors (Prohibited) Yes
2017
Asylum seekers (Provided) No
2015
Regulations, standards, guidelines
Has the country decriminalized immigration-related violations?
Maximum length of detention for persons detained upon arrival at ports of entry
Impact of alternatives
Mandatory detention
Expedited/fast track removal
Re-entry ban

INTERNATIONAL LAW

International treaty reservations
Reservation Year
Observation Date
CRC Article 2 1991
1991
1991
ICESCR Article 2 1983
1983
1983
Individual complaints procedure
Acceptance Year
ICESCR, Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 2008 2014
2014
CRC, [Third] Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child establishing a communications procedure, 2011 2014
2014
ICPED, International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, declaration under article 31 2011
2011
CRPD, Optional Protocol to o the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2009
2009
CEDAW, Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, 1999 2004
2004
ICERD, declaration under article 14 of the Convention 2000
2000
CAT, declaration under article 22 of the Convention 1999
1999
ICCPR, First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966 1994
1994
Ratio of complaints procedures accepted
Observation Date
8/8
8/8
Relevant recommendations issued by treaty bodies
Recommendation Year
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

§20 [...];Recalling its general recommendation No. 30 (2005) on discrimination against non citizens,;the Committee recommends that the State party ensure that non-custodial;measures are used whenever possible and that detention of asylum seekers at borders is used as a measure of last resort.

2014
2014
Regional legal instruments
Year of Ratification (Treaty) / Transposed (Directive) / Adoption (Regulation)
ECPT, European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment 1991
1991
CATHB, Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings 2009
2009
CPCSE, Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse 2013
2013
ECHRP1, Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights (amended by protocol 11) 1995
1995
ECHRP7, Protocol 7 to the European Convention on Human Rights (amended by protocol 11) 2012
2012
ECHR, Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (commonly known as the European Convention on Human Rights 1955
1955
Bilateral/multilateral agreements linked to readmission
Year in Force
Observation Date
Austria 1965
1965
2017
Bulgaria 2005
2005
2017
Croatia 2005
2005
2017
Estonia 2005
2005
2017
France 1964
1964
2017
Germany 1966
1966
2017
Hungary 2003
2003
2017
Lithuania 2005
2005
2017
Luxembourg 1967
1967
2017
Netherlands 1967
1967
2017
Poland 1991
1991
2017
Romania 2006
2006
2017
Slovakia 2004
2004
2017
Switzerland 2007
2007
2017
Albania 2008
2008
2017
Bosnia and Herzegovina 2008
2008
2017
Macedonia 2008
2008
2017
Kosovo 2011
2011
2017
Montenegro 2012
2012
2017
Russian Federation 2010
2010
2017
Serbia 2004
2004
2017
Relevant recommendations of the UN Universal Periodic Review
Observation Date
Yes 2011
Yes 2016
Ratio of relevant international treaties ratified
Treaty bodies decisions on individual complaints
Regional treaty reservations
Regional judicial decisions on individual complaints
Recommendations issued by regional human rights mechanisms
Visits by special procedures of the Human Rights Council
Relevant recommendations by UN Special Procedures

INSTITUTIONAL INDICATORS

Custodial authority
l’Office belge des Etranger (Interior Ministry) Interior or Home Affairs
2015
Office des étrangers (Service Public Fédéral Intérieur) Interior or Home Affairs
2010
Apprehending authorities
Services de police (Police) Ministry of Foreign Affairs
2016
Detention Facility Management
l’Office belge des Etrangers (Governmental)
2015
l’Office belge des Etrangers (Governmental)
2015
State (Governmental)
2010
Formally designated detention estate?
Yes (Any facility designated by relevant authority)
2017
Types of detention facilities used in practice
Yes ()
2017
()
2015
Authorized monitoring institutions
Centre for Equal Opportunities and Opposition to Racism (National Human Rights Institution (or Ombudsperson) (NHRI))
2016
Is the national human rights institution (NHRI) recognized as independent?
No
2016
Estimated annual budget for detention operations
26,700,000 ()
2011
12,800,000 ()
2006
11,755,000 ()
2005
10,685,000 ()
2005
Does the country receive external sources of funding?
Yes
2017
Yes
2016
Yes
2015
Yes
2014
Description of foreign assistance
During the period 2014-2017, Belgium used funds provided through the EU's Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund (AMIF) for various detention-related activities, including one or more of the following: increased staff at detention facilities; renovation of detention facilities; operational costs of running detention facilities; interpretation and healthcare services; legal assistance for detainees; leisure, cultural and educational activities at detention facilities. Proposed future regulations for this fund include encouraging recipients to consider possible joint use of reception and detention facilities by more than one Member State (see "The Way Forward, p.39).
2017
During the period 2014-2017, Belgium used funds provided through the EU's Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund (AMIF) for various detention-related activities, including one or more of the following: increased staff at detention facilities; renovation of detention facilities; operational costs of running detention facilities; interpretation and healthcare services; legal assistance for detainees; leisure, cultural and educational activities at detention facilities. Proposed future regulations for this fund include encouraging recipients to consider possible joint use of reception and detention facilities by more than one Member State (see "The Way Forward, p.39).
2016
During the period 2014-2017, Belgium used funds provided through the EU's Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund (AMIF) for various detention-related activities, including one or more of the following: increased staff at detention facilities; renovation of detention facilities; operational costs of running detention facilities; interpretation and healthcare services; legal assistance for detainees; leisure, cultural and educational activities at detention facilities. Proposed future regulations for this fund include encouraging recipients to consider possible joint use of reception and detention facilities by more than one Member State (see "The Way Forward, p.39).
2015
During the period 2014-2017, Belgium used funds provided through the EU's Asylum, Migration, and Integration Fund (AMIF) for various detention-related activities, including one or more of the following: increased staff at detention facilities; renovation of detention facilities; operational costs of running detention facilities; interpretation and healthcare services; legal assistance for detainees; leisure, cultural and educational activities at detention facilities. Proposed future regulations for this fund include encouraging recipients to consider possible joint use of reception and detention facilities by more than one Member State (see "The Way Forward, p.39).
2014
Federal or centralized governing system
Centralized or decentralized immigration authority
Does NHRI carry out visits?
Does NHRI have capacity to receive complaints?
Does NHRI publicly release reports on immigration detention?
Does national preventive mechanism (NPM) carry out visits?
Does NPM have capacity to receive complaints?
Does NPM publicly release reports on immigration detention?
Do NGOs carry out visits?
NGO capacity to receive complaints?
Do NGOs publish reports on immigration detention?
Do parliamentary organs carry out visits?
Do parliamentary organs have capacity to receive complaints?
Do parliamentary organs publicly report on their detention findings?
Do internal inspection agencies (IIAs) carry out visits?
Do IIAs have capacity to receive complaints?
Do IIAs publicly report their findings from detention inspections?
Do international and/or regional bodies (IRBs) visit immigration-related detention facilities?
Do IRBs publicly report their findings from inspections?
Types of privatisation/outsourcing
Detention contractors and other non-state entities
Estimated annual budgets for particular detention-related activities
Estimated cost per detainees day (in USD)
Estimated annual budget for non-custodial measures (in USD)
Estimated costs of non-custodial measures (in USD)