Tech & Rights

Closed Detention Centers for Foreigners in Belgium: An Unnecessary Evil

A new overview report on closed centers in Belgium has been published, 10 years after the previous one. It clearly shows that administrative detention violates human rights and human dignity.

by David Morelli
Foreigners’ rights associations Caritas international, le CIRÉ, Jesuit refugee service, la Ligue des droits de l’Homme, MRAX and Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen published the new report on the situation of closed centers in Belgium. The conclusion is clear: administrative detention violates human rights and human dignity.

Even now, and for more than 25 years, hundreds of people are being held in closed centers only because they do not have the documents that are necessary to enter or stay in Belgium. Although they did not commit any offense, the detention of these people can last for weeks, if not months.

'Appalling' situation

What does the reality of these centers look like? What are the living conditions of the people who are being held there? By publishing this overview report on the situation of these centers, the organizations, which visit detainees on a regular basis, wish to make the general public aware of what is happening inside these camps. By doing so, the organizations hope that each of us will look at the centers in a different way, far from the current political unrest.

This overview report is following a first report that was published 10 years ago. Unfortunately, almost all conclusions that were drawn from the previous report remain an issue and very few of the recommendations that were made at the time have been implemented.

“We are seeing the same regression when it comes to comply with rights: pregnant woman, elderly and sick people are being held, families are separated, the detention period is arbitrary, detainees are experiencing great difficulties in accessing legal aid, asylum seekers are almost systematically arrested at the border… The conclusions are appalling," the organizations state.

Detention has far-reaching consequences for the persons who suffer under it, on both physical and psychological levels, not to mention the impact on the image of migrants who are described as criminals due to the fact that they are detained in high security facilities. This misleading image is fueling the sense of insecurity within our society as well as threatening the ability to live together.

Speaking frankly to Francken

Yet the government is clearly using this detention as the pillar of its migration policy. In his mid-term policy note, the secretary of state for migration and asylum, Theo Francken, stated that he wanted to increase the number of places inside closed centers and the number of deportations. He even wants to detain children in these camps, which has not been the case since 2008, when Belgium was convicted by the European Court of Human Rights.

"On the basis of this report on closed centers, we would like to raise the issue of their compliance with human rights and to discuss their validity and legitimacy. Faced with the extent and the persistence of this situation, we call for respect for the fundamental principles such as freedom, the rule of law and the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatments. We demand that Belgium, at the very least, stop detaining vulnerable people and asylum seekers, put into the legislation the absolute prohibition to hold children and implement an independent and effective monitoring mechanism of closed detention centers," the organizations said in releasing their report.

It is time to stop making people believe that administrative detention is a necessary evil and to stop using closed centers for the benefit of a repressive migration policy that makes them a solution to any security issue.

Download the 2017 report on the situation of closed centers here.

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