I felt like I was underground !

19 January 2011 – Story of a young man who spent two and a half months in detention centres in Zaventem and Liège

Listen to the interview (ARABE and FR) :

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- How did you end up in detention?

I claimed asylum, and at the first meeting I was driven to a detention centre.

- When you went to the Immigration Office they brought you directly to the detention centre?

Yes, at my very first interview.

- And how long have you spent in detention and in which centres?
In total I have been in detention for two months and two weeks, I spent exactly 57 days in the Zaventem centre and then I was transferred to a centre in Liège. It really lowered my morale and took its toll on my nerves!

- Can you tell us about the conditions in the detention centre and how things were at Liège?

It is a prison, a real prison! The bedroom doors are prison doors, really heavy, there is no direct contact between the detainees and the guards, you have to talk to them through the metal door, a real prison door.
The services are not very fast there, if you make a request to see a doctor in the morning but the doctor is not there you just have to put up with the pain. And when you are ill you are given the same medication regardless of whether you have sore teeth or sore feet…it is always the same pill which in reality is a sedative.

- How many people were at the centre and were there lots of deportations from the centre?

I only stayed at Liège for a short while so I didn’t have enough time to pick up much information, I didn’t see any families and I didn’t hear of any families there. The detainees were nice people who didn’t cause any trouble, that is what I saw. When I was transferred to Liège, my moral was at its lowest point, I was no longer interested in what was happening around me, I was simply taken from one prison to another so I didn’t have very high moral.

- Can you describe how you felt during you time in detention?

I never imagined I would be in prison. My first period of detention was here in Belgium. I felt like I was underground, my moral was very low, my hair whitened. I already had white hair thanks to the Immigration Office’s administrative process but when I came to the detention centre my hair became even whiter very quickly.

- How long have you been free for and how have you felt since?

I feel happy to be free of course, yet at the same time I feel bad as I can’t process all that has happened to me, I can’t get my head around it all. I feel as if people want to hit me all the time and my body hurts all over. Prison is difficult, prison kills, there are people who rot in prison. The healthy become ill and it is not clear why. The reasons behind my imprisonment are not linked to any crime I committed; I am neither a murderer, a thief, nor a violent person. I have done nothing.

I left the centre four days ago.

- And what do you think about the concept of a detention centre?

The people who are detained in detention centres shouldn’t be there, it should be drug traffickers, thieves and criminals who are locked up.
They let criminals run free while they go after people who live peacefully and within the law. Everyone who comes to a detention centre learns how to hate. Before a period in detention you like your new country. You are happy you are going to be able to live in this country. But the injustice you see changes all that. I have heard this phrase from several different detainees from different places: “If I ever see a Belgian in my country I will get revenge”. I have heard this phrase uttered in different languages. Detention centres create a culture of hate because people find themselves there for no reason and they are treated badly for no reason. All because we hold out our hand to live in peace?! And at the same time drug traffickers and criminals get away with it! Because of this everyone who leaves a detention centre leaves full of hate and bad thoughts.

I’d also like to say that the detention centre lawyers are a waste of space. They do nothing!

The last lawyer I had behaved in a really bad way. For them you are about to board the aeroplane, you won’t come back and you will leave the country! So they don’t make an effort with detainees.

- Can you tell us about Kemo (a refugee from the Ivory Coast)?

Kemo was my co-detainee, that his how I knew him. He came via Israel, so they wanted to deport him back there. Kemo told them: “Send me to my country and not to Israel, Israel is not my country!”
For the third deportation attempt, they never tell the detainee that they are going to be deported, that is how it works at Liège and at Zaventem and I think it works like that in all the other detention centres too.
So it was a total surprise when the security agents came to get Kemo, they took him into a room and then they put him in a van. When Kemo realised he was being taken to the airport he protested. So they were violent with him and they handcuffed him. Kemo resisted because he didn’t want to go back to Israel, Israel is not his country. When he came back to the centre he was limping and he was very depressed, especially as he was not prepared for this third deportation attempt at all. I heard he was taken to prison because he hit two police officers, but it is the police officers who hit him and pushed him to the ground. One of the police officers put his foot on Kemo’s knee, and another put his foot on his neck! That is clearly inhuman behaviour, and another strange thing is that someone can be deported while their case is still ongoing before they have received either a positive or negative answer!
And they told Kemo that even after he left his case would still be dealt with! How is that possible!! The detention centre system is run by a kind of mafia!! It is not clear what is happening, there are no laws that regulate detainees and their detention periods.

As I said before, Kemo was subjected to a new deportation attempt on 14 January, this time to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. This was right in the middle of all the political problems and they didn’t even take into account that all his family had been massacred by the Gbagbo! This deportation attempt was not only inhuman but totally illegal. Having resisted again, Kemo was accused of injuring the officers. Since then he has been imprisoned in the Forest prison while awaiting his judgement. Of course, no investigation has been made into the violence he has been subjected to…

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