You, black lawyers…

21 January 2011

Listen to the testimony (FR) :

[audio:http://gettingthevoiceout.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/vous-les-avocats-noirs.mp3|titles=vous-les-avocats-noirs]

My name is Thierry, I am Congolese.

I arrived in Belgium on the 9November 2010 at 3.30pm. I landed at Zaventem airport just like any other passenger and I presented my passport at the immigration service. The man who worked there really wanted to put me in a cell, but another arrived and he said: “I’d like to see this passport.”

Then he asked me some questions:

“Why did you come to Belgium?”

“I came to study.” I replied.

“Which subject?”

“I am here to specialise in criminology.”

He asks me in disbelief: “You are a lawyer?”

“Yes I am a lawyer.”

“Can I see your legal card?”

I got out my legal card and showed it to him.

“Which university are you going to study at?”

“At ULB in Brussels.”

“Can I see your matriculation documents?”

He looks at the documents and says: “But the school year starts on 15 October, you are late, you won’t be able to start.”

“Yes technically I am late in terms of the start date, but I have an exemption from the university which means I can start anytime up until the 15 November.”

My deadline for starting at the university was the 15 November and I was at the airport on the 9 November. The man said: “Would you follow me into my office”. I went in with him. He asked me to wait in the room. It was a windowed room, so you can see everyone who passes by and all the people on the outside can see in.

I had to wait there for nearly 45 minutes. I went into the inspector’s office, and as soon as I started to talk, the man who had questioned me came back and said: “Give me the passport as he is coming with me”. He took back the passport from the man who wanted to interrogate me and we went into his office: “Can you tell me again what have you come to do in Belgium?”

“But you have already seen my documents, I have a legitimate long term study visa.”

He looks at me: “You are a lawyer?”

“Yes as I already told you I am a lawyer.”

Then he uttered something which I only realised after was meant to be provocative:
“You black lawyers, you are very clever”.
I repeat: “You black lawyers, you are very clever, I am going to send you all back.”

Ah…

He said to me: “But when did you get your visa?”

“You can see the date there, it was the 25 October.

“How did you get it?”

“I had to request it like everyone does. My documents for Schengen are all there, it is legitimate.”

So he said: “OK, you can go into the room.”

I sat back down and thought to myself: “I have given reasonable explanations so there is no reason why they would detain me.”

At 6pm, a man comes back and asks me: “Is there anyone who has come to pick you up?”

“Yes my wife is outside.”

My wife comes in and they ask her the same questions and she gives the same answers as I did. They tell us to wait.

So we waited. At 7pm they came and told my wife to leave. While she was picking up her bag and getting ready to leave the man started using force to usher her out! And I couldn’t tolerate that, I intervened and we started shouting at each other before some other officers came to came things down.

After that my wife eventually left. I was there from 3pm until 10pm.

At 10pm, someone came with a note and asked me to sign it. I asked what it was that I had to sign as it was written in Dutch: “It is completely unacceptable to ask me to sign a document that I don’t understand, it is unthinkable!”
I refused to sign it. A policewoman told me: “These documents ascertain that you have to leave Belgian territory.”

“But why?”

“There is no reason given, we are just asking you to leave Belgian territory.”

Ten minutes later two police officers arrived and asked me to follow them. I just had my briefcase, my computer and a small piece of hand luggage.

I was taken into a sort of apartment, it was nearly 11pm. They opened a room, there were eight bunk beds and when they put the light on I noticed there were already two people asleep in the room.

These centres are called INAD centres and they are located right inside the airport. They are for people who are about to be deported.

In general it is a nice place, very relaxing, there is a living room and some games…but just in front of you there is a bay window and you can see all the planes on the tarmac. So this centre really reminds you that you are about to get on a plane and go back to where you came from.

So in the morning a document arrives from the social assistant. He told me: “You have a document which states that you must return to Casablanca, Morocco”.
“But I am Congolese, I come from Kinshasa, my flight was with Royal Air Maroc and it stopped off in Casablanca, but I don’t see why you would send me back to Casablanca!”

There were about 13 of us altogether. There were some who had signed which meant they were put directly onto a flight. I saw people leave one by one, but as I hadn’t signed I stayed there.

You can only stay for seven days in an INAD centre. After seven days you are sent to another centre.

On the seventh day I was transferred to centre 127bis. It is a centre for people with no documents. Can you imagine, I was sent to a centre for undocumented people even though I had all my documents, everything was in order concerning my right to be on Belgian territory.

I stayed from the 15 to 29 October. So altogether I was in detention for 20 days.

And on what grounds was I being held? The first time there was no reason. The second time, they said that my exemption issued by the University was false. The third time, I had another deportation notice which said that my reasons for being in the country were not clear.
And fourthly, that I was a dangerous person (he laughs). I don’t see how I am dangerous! Twice, my lawyer had appealed and twice the Immigration office gave a negative response.

We went to the Palais de Justice on the 25 October. They put me in handcuffs as if I had killed someone or stolen something. I was locked up in a cell in the Palais de Justice from 7.30 am until nearly 2.30pm.

It’s really horrible. I am a lawyer and it was the first time I had found myself in that situation.

At 2.30pm they came to get me, they took me into the courtroom. As soon as I entered, the judge said to me: “Are you Mr M?” I said yes. Good, now there is an interpreter who is going to translate the decision we have taken here.”

What? Unbelievable! The first I heard of it, what decision? The judge was speaking in French, it was a woman. She told me that an interpreter was going to tell me. But she could just tell me herself!

She said: “The public minister has ordered a further period of detention, it is up to your lawyer to re-initiate any further action.”

It was like a piece of cinema, I have never seen the likes! It was my lawyer who brought my case before the judges, so they should have been there on that day to deal with the matter put forward by my lawyer. But that didn’t happen. So it was completely unlawful…a total mess!

I was taken to the airport to be deported three times. The first time I resisted so I was brought back to the centre. As soon as I got back to the centre they issued me with another deportation order, I was once again taken to the airport, and once again I refused to leave. The third time, after I went before the court, I again resisted at the airport and was brought back straightaway where I received a fourth deportation order for Tuesday, this time with a military escort. They told me that this time I would be handcuffed and thrown into the aeroplane against my will.

In the end, some students and my wife went to see the rector of the university. The press became interested in my case and as opinion started to become more pronounced, the next day they decided to release me.

This was the first time in my life I was deprived of my freedom. It is really hard to be deprived of your freedom. We have the opportunity to defend people who are in prison, but we don’t realise the gravity of what being imprisoned means.

For someone to tell you that you shouldn’t be here is humiliating, psychologically it is too much! I don’t know how to explain it but it makes you develop strong feelings of revolt.

As part of our studies, in general we say that prison is criminogenic, i.e. it is a factor which leads to more crime. It is inhuman and it is degrading. We have to stop people being detained as much as possible.

I repeat, being in a detention centre is inhuman and degrading; it is a violation of human rights!

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