Testimony by a retainee in Vottem ( FR ): here
In the shadow of the Coronavirus mediatisation, the people retained in closed centres rebel against the racist administration that imprisons them, and abandons them in this pandemic episode.
This article tries to take stock of the resistance and fights that the State would rather see invisible. Most of the information gathered this Tuesday 17 March come from retainees who often sound the alarm, and from their supports and acquaintances in the outside world.
Merksplas closed centre:
A Guinean man was driven to the airport on Tuesday 17 March without any medical checkup nor any information related to the virus.
A revolt is also ongoing in the Merksplas closed centre where retainees refused to eat. Currently there are six people in confinement cells following the intervention by the police.
Some retainees were released by the administration. Internal rumours say that everybody will be released.
The staff of the centre do not wear masks. Apparently ‘it is a complete mess here.’
Vottem closed centre :
A few retainees had a chat with the director who asked them why they refused to eat. There are only one or two persons who feed themselves in each wing. “Beware, it can go far if you push too much’, said the director, referring to the confinement cell.
There were a few releases yesterday and approximately 5 or 6 men were released this Tuesday 17 March according to our sources. Rumours say that around 30 people should soon be released.
A. has been retained for 4 months and a half. He is sick and complains about a some thickness in his stomach, he is stressed and doesn’t go to the bathroom. ‘I amhere and I ignore the reason why.’
The CRACPE (Collectif de Résistance Aux Centres pour Étrangers) summarised the situation in Vottem in a statement, which notably says:
“Since Monday, a hunger strike movement started among the men retained in the closed centre for foreigners in Vottem.
They denounce their retention and the dangereous promiscuity in the context of the coronavirus epidemy. In this challenging time, they also suffer from the absenceof their friends and family who are many to live in Belgium. Visits have been forbidden until further notice.
A few have been released, in very samll amounts, since the end of last week, notably those who had very serious health problems, or among those who should have returned to Italy. All those who remain do not understand, and they started the hunger strike movement to obtain their release.
The situtation is extremely tense; some are desperate, as shown by an escape attempt on Saturday, and two suicide attempts over the last days.
They asked us to make this statement because they feel forgotten and can not get heard.’
127bis closed centre:
In the L wing, the retainees sometimes refuse to eat and they all want to go on hunger strike.
On 14 March, a visitor used his privileged access seen his mandate to visit the 127bis and reported very serious sanitary issues: hygiene conditions have not been reinforced, toilets are dirty, there is no soap, no toilet paper, no adaptation measures in the rooms, no care reinforcement by doctors and nurses, etc.
On 15 March there were 12 releases following a hunger strike of several people, notably from Aghanistan and several African countries. This Tuesday we heard that3 people were released.
Still in wing L: the social assistant came at 11 a.m., the retainees asked her for information. She did not want to answer, just saying ‘may be tomorrow’ before leaving.
Nobody ate at lunch time and it is likely that everybody will continue. They are even more isolated than usual because visits are no longer permitted.
One of the retainees testifies: “we are not gangsters, we are not animals. We have questions but no answers, some people are here for 4, 5, 6 months without answers (ndlr: tickets). What with corona? We stay here? For how many months?“
A host also testifies: ‘I could feel they are scared of the virus, just like us, and that they fear being stuck there for x time. He told me that they were all shouting ‘we are not gangsters, why do you lock us?’
Seven new releases are known in the wing: 3 Erythreans, 1 Ghanaian, 1 Ethiopian (Dublin France) and 2 Arabs (Dublin Belgium).
Caricole centre :
According to our sources, there have been 29 releases lately.
It seems that the administration decided not to lock women in Bruges anymore. We heard that six women retained in Bruges were transferred to the Holsbeek closed centre.
Men have organise a demonstration in the centre to ask their liberation: 6 of them were take in isolation for 36 horesm
Closed centre for women in Holsbeek
We were informed of the release of 6 women. They all are in the centre waiting for their release.
According to an NGO, the Foreigners Office would have announced that there would not be new incarceration, except of people coming from jail. Since they are currently non removable, their retention would then be illegal. The people arrested at the airport could also be retained soon, but since the borders are closed and there are no more planes, there will not be too many people.
The Foreigners Office would also have promised to release mainly the ‘vulnerable’ ones so as to reduce the number of prisoners and guards.
The Foreigners Office would also have promised to release mainly the ‘vulnerable’ ones so as to reduce the number of prisoners and guards. Just in case, we insist that the promises of that ominous administration are not worth our consideration, not more than their despicable policies.
In front of the coronavirus, the government call for prudence and solidarity, and puts pressure on the workers, above all female workers of the public services that they nevertheless continue weakening.
The disastrous sanitary situation in the closed centres (as well as in prisons) is not an anecdotal failure of the State administration, but it reveals the structural racism of these isolation and freedom deprivation places. It shows how the State treats the bodies they deem unworthy and how its administration exposethem to all kinds of violence among which retention in itself.
As of today, closed centres should be emptied and destroyed as of tomorrow.