Against the use of local administrations by the Immigration Office (EN)
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The Belgian Immigration Office has put, as part of a trial, a permanently-based officer in all large towns in order to carry out its SEFOR (‘Sensibilisation, Follow-up, Return’) programme more effectively.
Officially, it concerns favouring voluntary returns for people who have received an order to leave the territory following an asylum request rejection, a negative decision about a family regrouping, the end of a student visa, or the final negative decision in an asylum claim process.
In reality, the political will behind this policy is clear: the Di Rupo government wants to up the ante on returns, i.e. deportations.
For a list of certain ‘safe’ countries the right to asylum will be restricted. The new Immigration Minister Maggie De Block has obtained extra budgetary allowances to open the new ‘centre 127tris’ or ‘Caricole’ which will replace centre 127, with the aim of increasing the number of deportations.
A deportation policy that’s not so fair after all
Among those who have been deported are many who thought they had achieved regularisation in 2009, when they were urged by various authorities to come out of from living in the shadows and make a claim for regularisation.
Lots of associations and citizens encouraged them. However this regularisation operation was just a decoy put in place by the previous government.
Today many people are receiving negative responses, a contrast to 2010 when many people received positive responses giving many others hope. People who have lived here for years are being refused regularisation because official identity documents issued by certain embassies are not deemed valid or because their work contract shows a monthly salary a few Euros below the set amount needed: a minimum guaranteed salary of EUR 1387.49 a month.
Denouncing the Immigration Office’s interference in local council affairs
When all these requests were made, the claimants had to provide their address. Today in each Commune there are identification tools that can quickly pinpoint those whose regularisation attempts have failed. This was planned in the Wathelet Circular (10 June 2011) which was adopted by the previous government. But it seems that the local administrations were not collaborative or effective enough for the Immigration Office, so they felt they had to send officials into local administration offices in four large towns: the federal level government is setting the agenda in the Communes!
A representative from the Immigration Office has been stationed in Liège, Charleroi, Antwerp, and Ghent for several months to ensure that the requirements of this circular are carried out properly.
People who receive a negative decision, and consequently, an order to leave the territory, are first of all called to their Commune to be notified of the decision and to receive information on voluntary returns, and the consequences of not complying with the order: detention and the possibility of being banned from returning to Belgium for 5 years.
15 days later they are called to the Commune again to complete an identification process (photos for the forms so they can obtain a ‘laissez-passer’ in case they are deported) and to ask for their agreement to begin the voluntary return process.
Then, at the end of their order to leave the territory (30 days after the original notification), the police will check at their place of residence to verify that they have in fact left, and if they haven’t they will then be arrested.
As it is impossible to arrest and detain everyone, we have learnt that these Immigration Office officials draw up lists of arrests and organise police operations in order to be as effective as possible. Today, the RTBF report that from now on the official based in Liège will have their office in the Central Police Station. On these arrest lists are people for who they have grounds to refuse regularisation and others who have simply received their second order to leave the territory.
Don’t accept today what we denounced yesterday!
Taking censuses before stopping and deporting people, does that not sound familiar?
Let’s think of the past to understand the present. Lots of refugees in Belgium have fled horrendous situations: dictatorships, political, racist, sexist or homophobic persecutions, and let’s not forget refugees fleeing regions devastated by the effects of climate change. Others have fled war and misery to find a better life. Just like 60 million Europeans essentially did in the 19th century when they migrated to the American continent!
Let’s remember that from 1933 persecuted German Jews claimed asylum in Belgium, France and Holland and they were subsequently turned away or accepted depending on the circumstances of the day. But what is certain is that by the end of 1940 censuses carried out by the occupier were precursors to deportations.
Arrests through breach of trust and deception
We’ve even seen that some people are arrested when their regularisation request is still underway and they are not able to appeal.
Increasingly people are arrested through breaches of trust. When the police don’t find someone at their place of residence, a notice or communication to the neighbours is left stating that the person in question must report to the police station ‘concerning their request’. If the person goes to the police station they are arrested and taken to a detention centre so they can be deported.
These procedures are completely noncompliant with Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights which forbids arrests through deception or lies. They are also incompatible with the case of Conka v. Belgium, passed by the European Court of Human Rights in 2002, concerning the collective deportation of a group of Tzigane travellers from Belgium to Slovakia in 1999 after they were called to police stations in Ghent for an undisclosed ‘matter’ concerning them.
In light of these facts, we denounce the federal circular and ask the local authorities to resist the interference of the Immigration Office. We stand for an Immigration and Asylum policy that respects Human Rights. We denounce the Immigration Office reducing the autonomy of local administrations.
The Communes are points of first contact and integration centres for migrants and they should remain so, in complete independence. They must not become tools of repression.
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