SB OverSeas supports the inclusion of young asylum-seeking people through the Sb Espoir project, but the protection of unaccompanied minors, recognized by the Belgian legislation—is under question. Age assessments is a procedure applied to many cases by the Belgian government, wherein 55% of the case, the youth are considered guilty until proven that they are indeed under the age of 18.
Young refugees are systematically being detained at the border upon arrival to Belgium because of a lack of sufficient assessment at the border/ There is no vulnerability assessment procedure before being detained, so their vulnerability is not always known to the asylum authorities. The rights afforded to minors only apply once the Belgian authorities have decided there is enough evidence to prove that they are in fact minors. According to a UNHCR report published early this year plastic handcuffs are often used by the police while they wait their transfer to an Observation and Orientation Center. This is an example of the extent to which they are treated as criminals and not as individuals who should be protected by the law.
The identification process starts when one of the competent authorities signal the presence of a minor. Currently all competent authorities can cast doubt on the age of any youth. Once this doubt is signaled they will have to go through an age assessment process which consists on scans of a person’s teeth, wrist and clavicle. It is important to note that the accuracy of this medical test is not very high as it has a margin of error of 2 years. The results of this procedures take on average 2 weeks, during this waiting period the youth will not receive a guardian or special protection from the state, at this point the youth has already been in Brussels for more than a week but will not receive any protection until proven minor.
An applicant can appeal the age assessment if they find that it is not accurate, but during this time they are either detained or sheltered in a center of observation and orientation. The procedure to appeal the result on this assessment would have to be submitted by the youth, without the guidance of a guardian since in this case he does not have the right to one. This fact has make this process real challenge for them.
The politicization of the age is a dominant feature of the policy discourse in Belgium. It does not give the benefit of the doubt to any of the youth who arrive in the country. On the contrary it puts them through the procedure of having to proof their age to receive protection from the state. Should protection and guidance be given only under western understandings of childhood though an exam that has been proven to be inaccurate, or should there be a holistic approach that considers an amalgamation of different factors to determine the need or protection? And, shouldn’t we give these underage minors the benefit of the doubt and treat them as such until proven to be adults?