General news from the closed centres and testimonies

Double punishment & Dublin regulation
The notion of “double punishment”, also known as “banishment”, refers to the process undergone by foreign nationals sentenced to a prison term who, at the end of their sentence, are then transferred directly to a closed centre in order to be repatriated to their country of origin. These are not just a few isolated cases, since the double sentence affects a very large proportion of people held in closed centres. The over-representation of foreign nationals and undocumented migrants in prisons is mainly due to the treatment they receive from a racist police force that acts on the basis of race, and to the precarious living conditions in which the authorities keep them, forcing them to expose themselves to repression.
We report here on the case of a prisoner who found himself locked up in a closed centre seven times following prison sentences. As his fingerprints were registered in the Netherlands, he was sent back to that country each time under the Dublin Regulation¹. He is the father of 4 children in Belgium.
Talking about his experience, he tells us:
    “You get used to the system. I go from prison to a closed centre, then from time to time a bit of freedom”.
¹The Dublin Regulation determines the country responsible for a person’s asylum application at European level by applying a whole series of criteria. The criterion most regularly applied is the country where the person first entered the European Union. The authorities determine this country on the basis of the fingerprints that people have been forced to lodge.
Police intimidation on undocumented migrants is commonplace. Just recently, a man recounted the abuse he suffered during his arrest in Anderlecht: he had 3,000 euros in his pocket. The police took 2,000 euros from him and gave him a receipt. He doesn’t know how to get his money back. 
Another testimony highlights the lack of protection for undocumented migrants, both on the street and in closed centres, which are veritable lawless zones.
Once again, in the case reported below, it is the victims who suffer the brunt of the repression:
“I was beaten up at the detention centre by members of the security staff. I called the police. They came and I filed a complaint. The result for me: 4 days in solitary confinement and a transfer².
To date, he has had no news of the outcome of his complaint. 
Such behaviour is perpetrated with impunity and there are very few opportunities for undocumented migrants to assert their rights. The possibility for undocumented migrants to lodge a complaint is complicated by the system and the chances of prosecution are very slim. 
² We are talking here about a transfer from one detention centre to another. The Foreign Office very regularly uses this practice as a punishment when detainees object to the treatment they are receiving, which further isolates them and breaks the links with their fellow detainees, reducing the possibility of solidarity and collective resistance.
At the Bruges detention centre, the inmates tell us that the social services put a lot of pressure on them to accept voluntary returns. These are repatriation procedures organised in collaboration with the IOM (International Organisation for Migration), which promises repatriated persons assistance with a reintegration or professional project on the spot. This would involve several destination countries (Morocco, Ivory Coast, Senegal).
The Belgian government frequently collaborates with the IOM on so-called “voluntary” returns. The voluntary nature of the decision to leave Belgium is obviously quite relative when you consider the conditions under which people are forced to take these decisions: harassment by the Foreign Office and its staff, pressure, blackmail, confinement in closed centres for indefinite periods, etc.
Detainees frequently report dubious practices by the Foreign Office (FO), which does not hesitate to use illegal means to implement its unbridled policy of mass detention and deportation of illegal residents. For example, people are sometimes forcibly deported by surprise when they are due to appear in court on the same day or in the following days, in total violation of their right to a fair trial. All this without the FO being bothered.
One man recently received a favourable response to his asylum application, yet he was only released a week later. “The Office doesn’t even respect the courts”, he reports. 
Every day, detainees bear witness to the conditions of detention they face, the isolation into which they are plunged, and the flaws and realities of this machine of confinement and deportation:
    “Is Dublin an option or an obsession for the FO?
    “Is there no association monitoring the FO’s abuses? 
    “Merksplas is much worse than 127 bis, it’s a prison, at 127 we had a certain freedom of movement. At Merksplas we’re locked in our room from 10pm to 9am. And the guards are disrespectful and super racist”.
    “If you weren’t here, I don’t know how we’d cope. When we arrive here, we have no contact with the outside world. No association helps us. Nobody knows where we are. We disappear from the planet. Thanks to your top-ups we can finally phone our families, find a lawyer etc.”.
    “Those who receive an OQT: what do they do with it? Where do they go? And nobody helps them.
    “We have come to denounce the fact that, at the Bruges centre, (there are) currently a lot of people with serious psychiatric problems, and that this place is not for them. In their department there is only one psychologist who does absolutely nothing, and no control of medical examinations on arrival of detainees, their one and only motivation is to expel them.””

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