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. 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. 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. 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, questions for an appointment with the Immigration Office were made, and more than still are awaiting a date for their appointment. In the same period, requests for asylum were made. 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 symptoms.
Only after examination, if they do not show any symptoms, they can move to Sijsele or Marcinelle. 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. 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 , the Brussels local government will be hosting homeless people, including migrants, in a hotel in Brussels.
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Belgium halved its immigration detention capacity from to spaces in the weeks after the outbreak of the pandemic. 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.
As countries around the world prepared to ratify the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in December , 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.
The bitter public debate over the Global Compact is part of a broader hardening of immigration-related policies and attitudes in Belgium. Some observers have expressed concern that non-citizens held in the new facility may have restricted access to procedural safeguards.
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However, faced with the Covid 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.
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Detention Infrastructure. The Reception Act for Asylum Seekers and Certain Other Categories of Foreigners of 12 January hereinafter, the Reception Act details reception conditions for asylum seekers and other categories of non-citizens. 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.
The Royal Decree on Closed Centres of 2 August regulates the regime for all premises managed by the Immigration Department and used to detain non-citizens on Belgian territory.
However, in April , the decree was suspended by the Belgian Council of State. A number of immigration-related violations can be penalised with fines or prison sentences. Violation of such an entry-ban may be punished by imprisonment for up to one year or a fine of up to 1, 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 According to official information, in practice Belgian authorities have not issued an entry ban of more than 20 years.
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. Independent observers have voiced concern that one criterion alone would be sufficient to justify detention. 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.
According to NGOs, asylum seekers without travel documents at the border are automatically detained. In effect, this means that new asylum seekers will no longer be accepted in Belgium from 17 March However, in early , a Belgian Council of State ruling suspended a royal decree allowing for the detention of children. Since the Reception Act entered into force on 12 January , unaccompanied minors arriving at the border are first brought to specific centres, called Observations and Orientation Centres OCCs.
Here, they are identified, registered, and assigned a guardian, and the seven-day period here can be renewed once. The facilities are not closed but are secured, and can hold any unaccompanied minor regardless of their administrative status. In , 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.
In , 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. The announcement was followed in July by a royal decree permitting the detention of children.
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.
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. 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.
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In early , 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. 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 expansion of detention grounds in law and the shortening of some deadlines for procedural and appeal safeguards. According to Myria, three legal texts relate to pregnant women in relation to detention. 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 , 59 pregnant women were detained in Belgium. Migrants awaiting removal can be detained for up to five months.
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This duration can be extended for another two months, renewable once Aliens Act, Article 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 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 , 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. In , non-citizens spent an average of 35 days in immigration detention.
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The Aliens Act provides procedural guarantees for foreigners detained on immigration-related grounds. 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 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.
Many safeguards are also provided in the Royal Decree of , as amended in 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 The Aliens Act also provides for free legal assistance Articles 25 and 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.
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. 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 The request does not have a suspensive effect, meaning that detainees can be expelled during the procedure.
Moreover, a judicial appeal can be introduced before the Council for Alien Law Litigation against all decisions issued by the Immigration Department. Reportedly, the complex linguistic, administrative, and geographic context in Belgium often means that pro bono lawyers are unable to plead before the relevant jurisdiction.
In , a new complaints procedure was inserted into the Royal Decree on Closed Centres of 2 August 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 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.
In , 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.
Article 44 also provides for the home arrest of EU citizens ordered to leave Belgium. A form of house arrest was introduced in , authorising families in a regular situation to remain in their own homes.