Following numerous public protests, measures were introduced to allow some irregular migrants to regularize their status. The Federal Ombudsperson criticized conditions inside closed centres for migrants and asylum-seekers and called for reform. Many asylum-seekers were living in inadequate housing or were homeless. Belgium granted residency to one former Guantánamo Bay detainee. Allegations of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials continued.
Refugees and asylum-seekers
The federal government agency responsible for the reception of asylum-seekers (Fedasil) was repeatedly condemned by the administrative courts for failing to provide housing to asylum-seekers. Figures from a national NGO estimated that more than 200 asylum-seekers, including families with children, were sleeping in the street in October. According to official figures published in September, on any given day at least 1,100 asylum-seekers were housed in hotels and homeless shelters due to insufficient places in official housing.
The Secretary of State for Integration announced in October that pre-fabricated modules or “containers” would be installed in the grounds of existing Fedasil housing centres by July 2010 to house 700 asylum-seekers. It was also announced that an additional 16 million euros would be budgeted in 2010 for housing asylum-seekers.
For the first time in more than a decade Belgium introduced a refugee resettlement programme. Forty-seven Iraqi refugees living in Jordan and Syria, comprising single women with or without children, arrived in Belgium in September.
Arbitrary arrests and detentions
- According to information received by Amnesty International, at least one person refused asylum may have been arbitrarily detained after he finished serving his prison sentence. Saber Mohammed, an Iraqi asylum-seeker, was convicted of terrorism-related offences by the Brussels Court of Appeal in 2005. On 27 October 2007, after completing his prison sentence, he was immediately put into administrative detention pending expulsion to Iraq. He had made an asylum claim in November 2000, but this was rejected in 2005. A second asylum claim was made in November 2007. In February 2009, the Commissioner-General for Refugees and Stateless Persons rejected Saber Mohammed’s claim for asylum. Saber Mohammed lodged an appeal with the Council for Alien Disputes against the initial negative decision. The Council rejected his claim for refugee status, but noted in its decision that Saber Mohammed would be at risk of torture and other serious human rights violations if returned to Iraq. Saber Mohammed was released from administrative detention on 5 March 2009, the day after his appeal. He was immediately placed under a compulsory residence order by the Ministry for Migration and Asylum obliging him to reside within the Sint-Niklaas commune area and register with the police twice daily. At the end of the year Saber Mohammed’s asylum claim remained under appeal to the Council of State. He had submitted a claim to the European Court of Human Rights regarding arbitrary detention and inhuman treatment.
In July the federal government issued an instruction on regularization proceedings for irregular migrants who can demonstrate local integration in Belgium and have been awaiting regularization for an extended period of time. Numerous public protests, occupations and hunger strikes by irregular migrants preceded the introduction of this measure.
In July the Office of the Federal Ombudsperson published the findings of its investigation into closed centres for irregular migrants and rejected asylum-seekers in Belgium. The Ombudsperson reaffirmed that detention for the purpose of migration control should be used only as a last resort and noted that this principle was not always respected in Belgium. The Ombudsperson also expressed concerns about the living conditions inside closed centres, noted serious deficiencies in the system for dealing with individual complaints, and called for the introduction of legal advice services inside the closed centres. This recommendation was also made by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights in his report on his 2008 visit to Belgium published in June. He additionally called on the Belgian authorities to stop automatically detaining asylum-seekers who make claims at the border and to improve conditions in the closed centres.
Counter-terror and security
On 8 October, a detainee from the US detention facility at Guantánamo Bay was transferred to Belgium. The Belgian authorities confirmed that the released detainee would have residency status entitling him to a work permit.
Excessive use of force – police and security forces
There were continued reports of ill-treatment and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials.
- In March the family of Ebenizer Sontsa, a rejected asylum-seeker from Cameroon who committed suicide after an attempted deportation from Brussels airport in April 2008, submitted a complaint of torture and assault against the police officers suspected of ill-treating him during the failed expulsion.