Single-family houses have been set up to house families with children at the 127-bis closed detention center in Steenokkerzeel. The royal decree, published on August 1, 2018 came into force this past Saturday.
Located next to the runways of Zaventem national airport, this new extension of the center consists of four units, two are for families of six, while two others for families of eight. Families in an illegal situation could be locked up for up to a month.
The NGOs denounce this situation by opposing the confinement of children: “As the associations for the defense of the rights of foreigners were able to see during a visit organized by the Immigration Office, July 11, the family homes’ are in fact a ‘family prison’, and nothing less,” denounced the CIRE (coordination and initiative for refugees and foreigners).
Myria issues warnings
Myria, the Federal Center for Migration, on Friday sent several warnings to the Federal Government on the eve of the entry into force of the decree that will again allow the confinement of families for their expulsion.
Belgium stopped this practice in 2009 following a conviction by the European Court of Human Rights for the detention of children in the closed center 127-bis of Steenokkerzeel. Alternatives had been put in place in the form of open “return houses,” but the system was considered to be too inefficient, in particular because of the number of families leaving without warning was significantly high (about one-third).
The law has never been changed and still allows the confinement of families with minors. The previous government had planned to return but the project had not been implemented. The current government has taken the step and approved a decree that organizes the plan. Family units have been set up at “127bis”, designed to meet the needs of a family and prevent child abuse.
The detention period is limited to one month (14 days renewable) but in practice the detention periods are reset after each attempt of removal is missed. Some families may be directly confined, without alternatives, if a member of them is a danger to public order or national security, even if these two concepts are not clearly defined. Finally, for disciplinary reasons, a minor of 16 years can be placed in isolation for 24 hours, without prior warning, without access to the outside. Parents’ visits are not clearly defined either.
UNHCR urges Belgium not to lock up children
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on Friday urged Belgium not to lock up children for deportation with their families.
“Children, especially those arriving in another country in search of international protection, are extremely vulnerable and need specific care. We should treat them first and foremost as children, not as illegal aliens,” said UNHCR Regional Representative for Western Europe, Véronique Robert.