Imprisonment of illegals is the first and foremost sanction: “You are illegal, then prison is your place!”. Other sanctions that are proper to any imprisonment add themselves to it: physical and psychological mistreatment, blackmail, isolation cell, etc. that end after several months of detention with a deportation or a release (generally with an order to leave the territory).
The deported person finds him/herself in his/her country of origin, sometimes in prison again, and very often with no resources at all.
« When you arrive here in Africa, the way they left me at the airport, they considered me as a criminal, as a real bandit. There too, they treat you as they promised. First you have to go through jail and torture. For you to get free you must pay a lot of money. »
The released persons often lost everything they had (housing, bread and butter, etc.) They must start everything from scratch again and risk to go underground again.
« People do not realise how it can be… because now imagine: I stayed 3 months in the detention centre, I lost my house, so I am starting from scratch again… I am now living in the street. The CPAS must help me, so it is something that has reached nowhere! It is just like if you had been punished! »
As soon as someone does not obey the guards’ orders he/she may be punished, whether they refused to feed themselves or to be deported, during fights, mutinies, because of illness or suicide attempt.
« We were treated like criminals, we didn’t even have the right to express ourselves. They were doing whatever they wanted with us, if they wanted to bring us to an isolation cell, they were doing so, and frankly the conditions in solation cells are not human. »
These sanctions may vary between the suspension of mail, telephone communications and visits or the detention in an isolation cell, the transfer to another centre, threats of deportation or a forcible deportation. In practice, and according to the testimonies we got, the most common sanctions are the isolation cell, the transfer to another centre and forcible deportation.
To prevent a solidarity movement: top secret deportation!
Solidarity is expensive in prisons :
Other sanctions include blows and beating up that can be daily in some cases:
« Then I went to visit my friend and when I saw him I collapsed and cried: he had been beaten so hard that he was covered with bruises from top to bottom, he could neither stand nor sit, and this only because of a cigarette! »
« Yes, it was violent. They handcuffed me. I have scars in my hand. I got beaten in my mouth, I was wounded. I had blood in my eye. But they don’t care. They say it is nothing. You are an illegal, you are an illegal! » « The guards can be really harsh. Sometimes when they arrest you and bring you to your cell they are extremely violent. They may beat you but always with caution so that you may not file any complaint. »
What do you mean? « Well, they wear gloves, they take phone books, like the police, and they beat you up. »
This kind of violence is hold secret and does not appear in any ‘official’ report.
« The doctor came to visit him because he could not stand up anymore and he said that they had to bring him immediately to the hospital. The director and guards answered that it was impossible to bring him to the hospital because there people would learn what had happened in the centre. They put him in an isolation cell during 24 hours under suveillance seen his health state. »
There are several types of isolation: the ‘medical’ isolation, the ‘differentiated’ or ‘adapted’ isolation and the ‘disciplinary’ isolation : the distinction between these different measures is very muddled. The cells used for these different types of isolation are the same. Prisoners call them ‘the dungeon’ and the length of the isolation is very badly defined in the regulations and is very often arbitrary (1).
No prisoner can see any difference between these sorts of isolation and they always speak about being placed in an isolation cell (or dungeon).
In some centres, the ‘medical’ isolation is very similar to being placed in an isolation cell whereas in others they can be provided with little medical care: a bit of comfort, regular presence of staff but always in precarious conditions.
« How suicide attempts are dealt with in closed centres: last week-end he was desperate and tried to commit suicide by swallowing loads of pain killers. He fell into a coma and was placed in an isolation medical cell for several days. Once out of danger they put him into solitary confinement for 24 hours. In jail he again attempted suicide with a fork and is mutilated neck and arms »
« There is a handicapped guy with us. He hasn’t been eating for four days. Today they took him to an isolated room. They told him he would stay there and not go out with the others. Even for his prayer, he doesn’t come with us . What we live here is not human. »
The ‘differentiated’ or ‘adapted’ isolation is officially « reserved for the’isolation of the person who, through his/her behaviour, puts the security and tranquility of the group at risk and also to prolong the disciplinary isolation”. No regulation exists for this type of isolation and the length of it is left at the discretion of the guards or of the director of the centre .
These isolation cells are also used to separate the people who are on the point of being deported from the group. In most of the cases, they are placed there the day before their departure.
The disciplinary isolation is used for any contesting, hunger strike, illness, rebellion, ‘lack of respect’ towards guards, act of solidarity, etc.
The direction of the centre may isolate other residents for 24h, that can be extended to maximum 72h. Nevertheless, with the authorisation of the Minister, it can be extended up to 5 days.’ /We have been reported cases of isolation lasting for 10 days.
After the 5 days, this ‘disciplinary’ isolation is sometimes being prolonged by a ‘differentiated’ isolation in the same cell and under the same circumstances, for an undetermined period of time at the discretion of the guards or of the director of the centre.
In the ‘dungeons’ you have a foam mattress on a concrete ground, a blanket and a toilet of which the flush can sometimes not be actioned by the detainees, the later have to get rid of their phone, they don’t have the right to go out and don’t have any contact with the outside. The door generally has a small window (spyhole) so that the person may be watched from the outside, leaving him/her with no privacy at all. People sometimes call for hours without getting any answer. It also seems that people did not get anything to eat for one day, sometimes even more.
These isolation measures are THE disciplinary sanctions used every day to cope with any behaviour deemed to be of ‘opposition’ such as rebellion, hunger strike, solidarity movements, illness, crisis of despair or suicide attempts. The main goal is maximum repression so that prisoners may exactly feel that they are unwanted, and to prevent any protest movement.
These exclusion methods through imprisonment may it be in prisons, closed centres, psychiatric hospitals etc are practices that are intrinsic to the order established by the State, enabling to keep the overall control on any drifting, contesting, revolt that could threaten the established order.
(1) United Nations Committee against Torture, Second report of Belgium, NGOs
alternative report, September 2008, p. 37