The Holsbeek detention centre, on the outskirts of Leuven, is the only one of Belgium’s 6 detention centres that only holds women.
On 16 August, a 58-year-old woman was found unconscious in her room. It appeared that she had not eaten for several days and that no-one had noticed her. Everyone was shocked to see her in such a state. She was taken to hospital. “We didn’t know whether she was dead or alive”, said the inmates.
This event sparked off strong protests. Around twenty women demonstrated today against their confinement. One of the women who rebelled was put in solitary confinement. The center director, who was in her office, did not even bother to come and listen to their demands.
The reasons for their protests:
- Appalling living conditions: they were particularly critical of the hygiene conditions and the state of the toilets, which were very dirty…
- Inadequate meals: “We get a small portion. If we ask for more, they say no and throw the rest in the bin in front of us”. “It’s a form of torture they inflict on us“. Some inmates also report that the food served is sometimes rotten and that they are regularly sick after meals.
- The lack of supervision and care for some very vulnerable women. Some of the inmates are in a catastrophic state of health. One of them has only one kidney and has been locked up for 5 months. One prisoner said that she had lost 15 kilos in 3 months of detention.
- Administering inappropriate medication at the wrong times: “I’m very ill and take a lot of medication. But they don’t give it to me at the right times and it sometimes seems that it’s not always the right medicine. Sometimes I feel like I’m on drugs afterwards”.
- Administrative detentions. “We are treated like criminals”.
- The length of the detentions: some women have been locked up for 5, 8, 10 months, sometimes almost 1 year, waiting to be deported or released. “It’s unbearable to have to wait and wait for decisions to be taken.”
- The lack of understanding of release/expulsion decisions and their random nature. “
“HELP US. WE NEED YOUR HELP”
“We are here like animals. But in Belgium, even animals have rights.”
The detainees also deplore the fact that it is impossible for them to get out pictorial evidence of all the injustices and ill-treatment they suffer. Their smartphones are confiscated when they arrive at the detention centre. “We talk, we talk, we cry, we shout… But in the end, we’re still in prison.”
Getting the voice out calls the end of all confinement and the freedom of movement for all. However, we feel it is important to make the prisoners’ demands heard as they have told us.